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Prepare for the future of work: What the decline in trust means for organizations

Jason Lauritsen by Jason Lauritsen   October 03 2018

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As HR leaders, part of your job is to prepare your organization for a volatile and unknown future. While there is no crystal ball to predict the future of work with certainty, you can look to today’s trends to get an idea of what may likely be coming in the next several years.


In this future of work series, I will share with you eight research-based trends that I believe will play a significant role in shaping work over the next five years. I'll describe why they're important and what actions you might take now to prepare for a future shaped by each trend.  


Today, we start with perhaps the most daunting trend we face today—the decline of trust.  


Future of Work Trend #1: Declining Trust

If you pay any attention to the news, then this trend is not a surprise. Headlines about election interference, fake news, and corporate scandal seem to lead each day—particularly in the United States.


homepage-line-chartTo understand the impact, we can turn to the Edelman Trust Barometer. This report, produced annually for the past 18 years by Edelman Intelligence, is a survey of 33,000 people in 28 countries. The purpose is to gauge societal trust in the major institutions we rely on including Business, Government, Media, and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs).  


In 2018, the findings report:

  • On average, trust didn’t change much from 2017 to 2018, which isn’t encouraging since 13 of the 28 countries measured experienced “extreme trust losses” the previous year.
  • 20 of 28 countries fall into the “distruster” territory on the average this year.

In aggregate for the US, trust measures across the four institutions lost 37 points—a massive drop. Trust among what Edelman defines as the “informed public” dropped 23 points this year to place the United States dead last of the 28 countries measured.  


Based on the current political climate in the US, it’s hard to imagine these numbers improving dramatically in the near future. Trust has been broken and we need to take action.


What does this mean for organizations?

This decline in trust is both a threat and an opportunity for employers. People are looking for someone or something to trust and are having a hard time finding it.


Two Sparklers Indicating Organizational Trust

This feels like a thread because organizational trust is critical to employee engagement and performance. Expectations of employees on employers are high and people are skeptical. We’ve been let down by so many organizations we once trusted. We’ve had to learn how to fact check everything. Organizational and leadership actions are being scrutinized. There is a higher standard than in the past.


The opportunity will be for those employers who are willing to hold themselves to a higher standard of trustworthiness and take on that challenge. This may require introducing an increased level of transparency, accountability and vulnerability that may be uncomfortable at first.


Those organizations who succeed will reap the rewards. In a market craving trust, being worthy of it will make you extremely attractive to employees.


How can we prepare for the future of work now?

The task for organizations and leaders is to become as trustworthy as possible. Organizational trust isn’t a simple thing to establish and grow. Here are some key actions to start with.

 

1. Create transparency

In his excellent book, The Speed of Trust, Stephen M. R. Covey defines transparency in part as “telling the truth in a way that people can verify.” There are two actions implied by this definition. The first is tell the truth. But, it also requires that people can verify that truth for themselves.


To accomplish this, your organization should be proactive in sharing and communicating information openly. Everything that can be shared should be from financial results and client stories to company policies and resources. It should be accessible and easy to find for employees at all levels.

 

2. Be consistent

When you think about the people in your life who you trust the most, you would likely use words like “reliable” and “dependable” to describe them. They do what they say they will do. They don’t surprise you very often. You trust them because they are consistent in words and actions.


Consistency builds trust. As we navigate a landscape that seems to be ever changing, it can be challenging to be reliable and dependable for your employees. One thing you can do is to reduce unnecessary change. Be thoughtful and careful when deciding to introduce more change. Also, establishing a regular cadence of organizational communication while ensuring that employees can find important information where they expect it can demonstrate consistency.

 

3. Keep commitments

One of the fastest ways to lose trust is to make a commitment and not keep it. You can probably still remember someone from years ago who broke a promise to you. It leaves a scar. Commitments must be kept.


Organizationally, we must be intentional about the commitments we make ensuring we can follow through on all of them. If you have company values defined, those must show up in the everyday work experience of employees. If you ask employees for feedback insinuating that it will be used to improve things, then you had better take visible action following the survey. Employees have long memories. Even small promises broken can have long-term negative effects.


There is no downside to becoming a more trustworthy organization. Trust has so many benefits. And, if the downward trend of trust in society continues, fostering organizational trust will pay off exponentially in the future.

 

If you want to build organizational trust while improving employee engagement, it's time to treat work like a relationship instead of a transaction. Learn how during Jason Lauritsen's on-demand webinar, Work is a Relationship: An Employee Experience Strategy that Drives Engagement

work as a relationship employee experience strategy webinar
work as a relationship employee experience strategy webinar
Jason Lauritsen
Jason Lauritsen

Jason Lauritsen is a keynote speaker, author, and consultant. He is an employee engagement and workplace culture expert who will challenge you to think differently. A former corporate Human Resources executive, Jason has dedicated his career to helping leaders build organizations that are good for both people and profits. Most recently, he led the research team for Quantum Workplace’s Best Places to Work program where he has studied the employee experience at thousands of companies to understand what the best workplaces in the world do differently than the rest. Jason is the co-author of the book, Social Gravity: Harnessing the Natural Laws of Relationships, and author of his new book, Unlocking High Performance, to be published by Kogan Page in October 2018.

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