'We increasingly have all kinds of employee monitoring that happens now that didn't used to happen'
How does trust in the workplace translate to worker productivity?
A recent survey delved into the issue when it found that about 25% of workers don’t feel trusted in the workplace. And yet 87% of the respondents believe they are meeting or exceeding the expectations of their managers.
When employees are feeling trusted, their productivity soars: workers have 2.1 times better focus, experience a doubling of output and this translates to 4.3 times more overall satisfaction with work, according to the survey by Slack.
The Slack research heard from 10,387 workers in the U.S., Australia, France, Germany, Japan and U.K. between Feb. 13 and March 6.
Greater trust equals better outcomes
These findings make a lot of sense, says a Canadian academic.
“If you trust those you’re working with and you feel that you are trusted, it’s much easier to relax and let go of image concerns and just focus on your work because you’re not managing conflicts or things like that. So it does jive with what we know about productivity,” says Erin Reid, professor of human resources and management at McMaster University in Hamilton.
Trusted employees are also prepared to work hard, found the study, as 40% of respondents will go above and beyond versus those who don’t feel trusted (33%).
This workplace perception plays a big role in worker performance, says Reid.
“A lot of my research is around image and identity and people trying to live up to idealized expectations about what it means to be a worker, and if I think about that from a trust angle, if you have high trust, you might be able to, as an individual, let go of those idealized expectations and just be yourself and do your work.
“Whereas if you don’t have a lot of trust, that might be a situation where you’re trying to be the perfect reporter, for example, or the perfect lawyer and all the effort that you put into being the perfect incumbent of your role is efforts that you’re not putting into actually doing your work.”
Employers are having a hard time building up trust in the workplace, according to another survey.
Wellness goes down with lack of trust
By not feeling trusted, employees have worsened health outcomes, according to the Slack research. Stress and anxiety are greater by a factor of 2.3 times, which leads to a lesser sense of belonging by 4.2 times.
Feelings of distrust could have grown due to a new feature found in many workplaces, says Reid.
“We increasingly have all kinds of employee monitoring that happens now that didn’t used to happen, so people know that their email can be monitored, their internet usage as well, or if you’re working in a warehouse sometimes your steps are monitored; truck drivers, their mileage and their routes are monitored. All of that monitoring conveys that the employer fundamentally does not trust the employee — it’s baked into it,” she says.
With the switch to fully remote at the height of COVID, some of these feelings were inevitable.
“Lots of people have started new jobs, and never met their teams in person. I have many friends during COVID and never met anyone in person, I only met them on Zoom. The relationships that are built are not the same as if you’re in the office.”
“There’s none of that social glue that happens when you’re walking around and bumping into each other by the water fountain or knocking on each other’s doors for a five-minute chat — that doesn’t necessarily happen if you’re spending a lot of time just Zooming or working from home.”
These conditions are also having an impact on keeping people around, according to Reid.
“So many employers are finding it hard to retain employees, and a hypothesis that is floated is that these are employees who were working mostly online, or hybrid only in the office one or two days a week and they don’t have deep relationships at work, and so it’s easier for them to change jobs.
“All that makes it harder for employers to retain staff and so doing things like building trust, helping people feel and see that they are valued and trusted and that they belong and are included all of that, I think would help in retention.”
Trust plays a part with sick leave policies in believing employees when they report being unwell, says one HR leader.
The role of autonomy in building trust
Those employers who are looking for ways to enhance workplace trust should offer more independence to workers, says Reid.
“One thing I’ve noticed is that employees seem to have less and less ability or permission to make small decisions, and authority in some organizations is quite centralized. I think handing back some of that decision-making capacity to employees can help them feel that they’re trusted.”
As well, allow those workers a true say in how the company is managed, she says.
“I think suggestions boxes are great if they’re actually acted on and so then the challenge is for the employer to make sure that they’re actually acting on some of the suggestions and then employees know that they’re acting on them.”
“That could be as easy as an annual sort of review or an annual meeting. The employer could summarize all the suggestions that were received and explain which ones they are taking and for the ones that they’re not taking, explain why and that will help employees feel that they’re heard,” says Reid.