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The power of trust

When babies are born, doctors will often place them on their mother’s breast.

Skin to skin contact signals to the baby’s brain that they are safe. They trust this feeling, and it makes them feel good. And that doesn’t really change when we grow up.

Remember the first time your heart broke? When all you wanted was a hug from your best friend, your big brother, your mum?

Connection isn’t just about physical contact. Human beings feel safe in groups, families, and tribes. Having people around us we can trust and rely on helps us feel protected and safe.

Employees want the same feeling from the workplace. Someone to connect to. Someone who will hear their concerns and empathise with them. Someone who can be trusted.

This tells their brain that they’re not alone. That whatever happens, they’ll be okay because they’re in this with someone else.

Now more than ever, that sense of trust and connection in the workplace is truly vital.

Exhausted from years of normalised burnout and seeking a more sustainable alternative, employees are asking themselves big existential questions about what fulfilment looks like, and what their purpose in life is, both in and out of the workplace.

Previously, it wasn’t uncommon to stay in an unfulfilling job for a prolonged period of time, simply because of the security it provided. In the six months from May to September 2021 – a period we have come to know as the start of ‘The Great Resignation’ – a huge 36% of employees quit their jobs without another one lined up.

By the end of last year, record numbers of people were leaving their jobs every month. In the US in December 2021, 4.3 million people quit their jobs: a record figure only beaten by November’s numbers. And a recent Gallup poll found 48% of employees are actively looking for a new role at any given time.

The questions people are asking of the workplace go much deeper than they have before, and the answers are urgently needed. So much so that employees en masse are willing to take decisive action, risking their careers rather than waiting for them to play out.

What do employees want?

The same thing we’ve wanted since we were babies. To feel safe and supported. To feel trust. 

Employees want to see their personal identity celebrated alongside a sense of shared identity and group connection. They want cohesion and to feel a part of a team, as well as agency and autonomy.

They want to feel challenged, supported, and valued. But overall, they want to feel that they are trusted to do the job they signed up for. Working for trustworthy leaders, at trustworthy businesses.

The greatest challenge facing HR and people leaders at the moment is instilling a sense of trust across the board. At the same time, demonstrating to their people that they are an integral part of the company’s future.

Not doing so runs a real risk of disengaging and losing good prospective talent and established top performers alike. For those who stay, studies have shown employee engagement is a strong predictor of financial performance.

So this isn’t just about hiring or retaining talent. It’s about the very survival and growth of businesses.

High-Trust Organisations

The concept of “high-trust” workplaces is not new. Nor is it a post-pandemic trend, nor an arbitrary employee concern.

It’s human nature. And the way work has changed in recent years requires trust to be a central component in the way businesses operate.

Many people work in widely dispersed teams, often across different time zones, and are heavily dependent on technology, communication, and high levels of trust in order to function effectively.

Step back further and trust is crucial to businesses functioning in the first place. The way we recruit, the people we hire, the way we pay, train, and appraise people. Our day to day work with colleagues, clients, customers, and all manner of internal and external stakeholders.

Virtually every business relationship hinges on trust to some degree. Without it, most businesses would fail spectacularly.

What does a high-trust organisation look like?

It’s not any one thing. There isn’t a singular definition. It’s both as simple and as complex as saying “an organisation built on trust”.

Research into high-trust organisations both within and outside the workplace cites the book Trust Matters, which recognises 8 characteristics inherent in a culture of trust:

  1. Shared values – Values which are practised at work but meaningful to employees outside of work
  2. A shared mission or goal – Employees’ commitment to communal goals, and not simply personal/independent goals
  3. Open and authentic leadership – A propensity of a leader to demonstrate trust, among other values, towards employees
  4. A culture of consensus, not force – Employees willingly contribute to shared missions or goals if there is a culture of trust, otherwise, employees may feel pressured or coerced to do so
  5. A feeling of enjoying work – A culture of trust is fostered if employees feel relaxed and sense that mistakes and failure are accepted
  6. An atmosphere of fun and enjoyment – A workplace where employees can have fun, be themselves, and are open to pushing intellectual boundaries
  7. A desire to learn, not blame – Fault associated with mistakes and failure does not nurture openness, trust, and ongoing development among employees
  8. Honest and authentic conversations – A culture of trust is fostered where there is sincere communication and information is not withheld across horizontal and vertical relationships

Source: Bibb & Kourdi, 2004; Trust Matters: For Organisational and Personal Success

Harness the power of trust

A culture of trust has to start at the top. 

Managers are the front line for employee concerns and will often be the most visible figures within a business for instilling trust in people. But leadership must lead the way for meaningful change to hold.

That means being vulnerable. Taking a genuine interest in people personally as well as professionally. Spending time – quality time – with the team outside of work, not talking shop, not checking emails.

It means giving employees flexibility and trust in how they work, where they work from, and what they work on where possible. Communicating openly and honestly. Celebrating wins and letting people know that they are valued.

It will look differently at different businesses, but in general, high-trust workplaces have a positive influence on performance.

Research found that when leaders demonstrate trustworthy behaviour, it is more likely to be reciprocated. Trust breeds trust. But also, when people feel trusted they are more likely to go above and beyond in their work, investing more time on tasks and taking responsibility for things outside of their day to day remit.

Trust works on an individual basis, as well as across teams. More trust equals more effective teamwork, collaboration, and problem solving, leading to greater performance overall.

The collective impact this has on businesses is significant. Not only are high-trust organisations attractive prospects for talent to join, they are proven to bring out the best in their people and have a positive impact on a number of key metrics, typically:

  • 74% less stress
  • 40% less burnout
  • 50% higher productivity
  • 76% higher engagement

As well as more energy, fewer sick days, increased satisfaction and performance.

On the other hand, when employees do not trust leadership, their commitment, satisfaction, and intention to stay in their job suffers. This may be because employees are worried about the integrity or competence of decisions that are being made, or that they simply don’t feel like they’re in safe hands.

Employees leaving a business involves significant financial risk for all parties, but a less discussed cost is the one inflicted on company culture when disengaged or dissatisfied high performers take the decision to leave.

Or the personal losses, as people walk away from months, years of hard work and career progression, and managers lose brilliant people with bright futures.

We know managers and people leaders have never been in a harder place.

Balancing burgeoning workloads, their own wellbeing, as well as the many day to day challenges life throws at us. Not to mention the intricacies of leading the people under their charge through an uncertain world with confidence and care, and getting the best out of them at the same time.

At Sanctus we’ve developed a way to help managers cultivate high-trust environments, where belonging, community, and wellbeing are prioritised just as highly as productivity and performance.

Connected Leadership is a personalised multi-session coaching track for managers and people leaders that develops leadership capabilities beyond conventional hard and soft skill training. It’s designed to help managers and people leaders at all levels become the best source of support possible for themselves, their team, and the wider business.

Managers work 1-2-1 with an accredited Sanctus Coach over a series of sessions on areas including personal wellbeing, professional development, and modern management skills.

In a nutshell, Connected Leadership supports managers & people leaders at all levels to: 

  • Develop key leadership competencies proven to positively impact employee engagement, productivity, retention, stress and burnout
  • Support themselves and others by building the skills and awareness to spot signs of struggle and provide effective support
  • Foster high-trust environments with wellbeing as the bedrock of a sustainable, thriving workplace culture
  • Follow an evidence based approach to thriving in uncertain environments and cultivating mutually supportive teams
  • Highlight strengths, demonstrate progress, and identify opportunities for further development through an impact-led coaching track

Learn more about Connected Leadership here.