Date posted: 17/11/2020 5 min read

Hey boss! I’m working from home and I don’t trust you

Coronavirus has torpedoed trust levels as well as the economy, but bosses are ‘blissfully deluded’, a recent report finds.

In Brief

  • A loss of trust in employers has tended to grow the longer that people work remotely from home.
  • The permanency of remote or hybrid working means leaders should invest in trust-building efforts.
  • Honest and transparent communication, and compassion and care for staff are essential behaviours to build trust.

According to a recent report, there is some discrepancy between leaders’ perceptions of their employees’ level of trust versus actual levels reported by staff.

Springfox’s report on The Australian Workforce Response to COVID-19, found leaders believed a mere 16.5% of staff decreased their levels of trust in others due to COVID-19, when in fact double that number – 32% of staff – said their trust in others was lower as a result of the pandemic.

We’re calling it the ‘blissful delusion’ of leadership trust. And operating under such a delusion is a treacherous place for leaders to be in. If this loss of trust persists it can lead to low respect from staff, high conflict and a loss of discretionary effort, particularly when teams are working remotely.

While leading through the pandemic has arguably provided the best possible leadership training to navigate adverse conditions, there’s no question that distrust has increased the longer people have worked from home.

“There’s no question that distrust has increased the longer people have worked from home.”
Stuart Taylor, Springfox

The permanency of the virtual or hybrid workplace – where some people work from the office and others from home – gives leaders good cause to invest in trust-building efforts.

What behaviours support trust in the workplace?

There are three key behaviours that support trust in workplaces, which provide a simple framework from which leaders can build trust:

  • honest communication
  • empathy
  • transparency.

When leaders operate from a foundation of honest and transparent communication, underpinned by compassion and care, they are reminding staff that the organisation values them, and that there is a clear vision for the company’s future, even if there are significant challenges along the way.

How leaders can build trust

Building a high-trust culture takes time and investment. If trust levels were already high in an organisation, they may have been somewhat lessened by the disruption of COVID-19. If they were low to begin with, they may have taken a battering under the recent conditions.

Either way, the current climate and the next steps towards recovery from the pandemic demand trust. Building that trust should be viewed as a long-term commitment, starting now.

“Building that trust should be viewed as a long-term commitment, starting now.”
Stuart Taylor, Springfox

Leaders can practically strengthen trust within their teams by practising the following:

1. Lead with compassion

Compassion is at the foundation of every high-trust organisation. Leaders should recognise and acknowledge the unique challenges that their teams may be facing, and the impact these challenges could be having on their work.

When a team or team member is struggling or is behaving outside core values, a compassionate leader will have the courageous conversation to provide support and coaching. In many cases, tough love builds respect.

2. Be a ‘realistic optimist’

Realistic optimism is an approach to leadership that is grounded equally in realism and optimism. Leaders who lead with realistic optimism are resilient in the face of adversity as they are equipped with the focus and clarity required to make sound and accurate decisions.

More than that, realistic optimists by nature demonstrate positivity and transparency – creating a credible hope for the future and encouraging staff to feel both rewarded and as if they are part of the solution moving forward.

3. Communicate

Communication is key – not only for keeping teams up to date and promoting collaboration and productivity, but for building and maintaining trust between teams and individuals.

Aim to communicate often through face-to-face interaction or video calls rather than phone calls or emails, as this will work to combat isolation and create a sense of cohesion. But don’t overdo it. Too much ‘checking in’ can easily become micro-management. Communication should aim to go beyond a task to building caring relationships.

4. Build resilience

Resilience is a learned skill that can be purposefully built and skilfully maintained through a number of positive behaviours and strong lifestyle practices. Resilient people have the ability to effectively navigate challenges and bounce forward after setbacks.

However, like anything in leadership, resilience starts at the top. Invest in your own resilience and wellbeing so that you have the perspective, purpose and energy to hold a high position of trust among your staff.

Find out more:

The Australian Workforce Response to COVID-19

Explore Springfox’s report The Australian Workforce Response to COVID-19: A call for courage, connection and compassion to find out more about the challenges and opportunities in the COVID-normal workplace.

Find out more