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Workplace Trust Put At Risk By Pandemic Disruption

Recent Covid-19 lockdowns and no end in sight to pandemic disruption demand ongoing organisational change to survive, but it's also a time when employees are feeling particularly vulnerable – which may cause trust issues that employers should not neglect.

Brent Mulholland, the CEO of a national labour-hire company, ELE Group – which operates across the security, construction, transport and manufacturing sectors – said that, unfortunately, the priorities of surviving and pivoting when the business is under pressure risks collateral damage to employees.

"It is a time of broken or delayed promises, backtracking or surprises and all of it potentially necessary to get through. Your employees will be feeling uncertain, unsafe and insecure, which means we need to be careful not to damage the trust and relationships we have with our people."

Far more than money, trust is the currency of business. Without it, contracts are void, relationships are flimsy, and expectations are unsteady. But during Covid-19, sometimes a promise made just a week prior can simply no longer be satisfied if the entire country is locked down.

Mulholland said for an employer to try covering their tracks by claiming a promise wasn't written down, and isn't valid, is never a good strategy for building trust. If the business situation changes – for whatever reason – the only real option for an employer is to be open and honest.

"It is always a good idea to be transparent and straight with people. People will buy into the company and turn up at to their job happy. It increases productivity and cooperation, and people will be less resistant to change.

"But not being open and honest about why a promise can't be kept will hurt trust. You can never overcommunicate. Taking the time to respect staff viewpoints, particularly during this pandemic, is an excellent skill for any employer or manager," Mulholland said.

It can be frustrating for a promise to be broken, even something as small as an end-of-year Christmas party or a considerable promise like a planned salary increase.

Mulholland offered a handful of tips for creating a high-trust workplace.

1. Communication is key

A culture of trust in the workplace promotes team effectiveness, but that trust can't happen without communication. In this sense, good team communication is both the chicken and the egg: it must be nurtured to establish a baseline of trust, and once it is, the two feed each other.

"Communication with teammates is a must when it comes to trust — both formal and informal. Regular team check-ins combined with impromptu catchups will help develop the interpersonal ties upon which authentic relationships are built.

"It is important for an organisation to have an open-door policy so people can talk and know they will be heard," Mulholland said.

2. Walk-in their shoes

Many times a manager's good intentions can be thwarted by things outside of their control, like a nationwide lockdown, for instance.

"Employers could find it helpful to open up more about the troubles they're going through and the sleepless nights they are experiencing.

"Trust can help overcome a lot of problems and help you get through difficult times," Mulholland said.

3. Maintain moral standards

Trusted leaders are ethical leaders. Managers must show that they walk the walk, not just talk the talk. Ethical leaders follow the rules they set and communicate those ethical standards to staff and hold employees accountable when those standards fall short.

"For example, clamping down on gossip is also critical in terms of creating an environment of trust. The leaders of an organisation need to set the standards and boundaries for company conduct," Mulholland said.

"A boss that allows workers to insult other workers or doesn't deal with matters consistently will lead to a breakdown in trust. This can affect a company's performance. These are the things people in positions of leadership and influence need to be mindful of."

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