Building an employer-employee trust economy in a post-COVID workplace

By Cllement Tan


THE COVID-19 underscored the growing importance of trust between employer and employee. With hybrid remote working and work-from-home measures in place, organisations must cultivate greater trust levels to thrive in this new working environment in the long term.

According to the Edelman Trust Barometer 2021, the pandemic has been a moment of reckoning for leaders around the world – especially business leaders. It has led to a raging infodemic where people do not know where to source reliable information.

They are rejecting talking heads that are deemed not credible and this widening trust gap is not good news for organisations like businesses and governments which often interact within the “trust economy”.

Nevertheless, there is a glimmer of hope. The study this year indicated that not only are businesses the most trusted institution – polling a 61% trust level – it is also viewed as both more ethical and competent in the eyes of the public compared to the Government, NGOs and the media.

People are looking at businesses and business leaders to step in and fill the trust void increasing expectations of CEOs in their communications both internally and externally. They must be able to communicate transparently with their employees, set adequate targets and lead thoughtfully by inculcating a trusting environment.

This then translates to an organisation’s external communications which are now seeing fresh demand for businesses to focus on societal engagement with the same rigour used when speaking about profits.

Trust, the key to growth

Trust in employees drives business growth. Business productivity is linked to innovation which is better developed when employees feel engaged and comfortable in their work environments.

A poll by Gallup found that engaged employees result in a 41% reduction in work absenteeism and a 17% increase in productivity, resulting in highly engaged businesses being 21% more profitable than their counterparts.

Therefore, it is paramount for employers to be patient with team members and give them the care and flexibility to take care of their work responsibilities, which requires an investment in a greater level of trust in their professional relationships.

In these unusual and trying times, there can be hiccups from some members due to pandemic-related reasons. Handling such situations must be done with candour and patience if we are to develop a more trusting work environment.

Another way to look at the situation is to contrast trust with control. It is understandable to want to constantly keep tabs on work especially when the stakes have never been higher. But allowing a certain degree of flexibility by stepping back from micromanaging can work to an employer’s advantage.

Building trust

In my over 14 years of experience in the human resource (HR) world driving employee engagement and HR Tech, I am convinced that good leaders create better employees. The measure of how good a leader is based on how they can nurture an environment of transparency within their team and the wider organisation.

To foster an environment of trust necessitates a paradigm shift in the way we perceive work. In a virtual working environment, the hours of work are often blurred. This is the reality of working in the new normal.

In such a situation, an employer must shift their judgment of an employee to one based on work outcome as opposed to man-hours worked. Employees must also be mindful of their managers who might still find it difficult to cope with work under current circumstances.

An open environment reduces the need for employees to walk on eggshells among their peers thus reducing stress levels and ensuring they don’t burnout even further.

This employer-employee trust synergy would allow managers to better empower their employees to make their own decisions and the latter would have greater courage in confidence in doing so.

Trust in the digital age

As the hybridisation of physical and virtual work becomes more common, human resource managers keep up with the speed of digitalisation. Digital HR is no longer about streamlining payroll and leave applications on cloud-based software. It is about being innovative and technologically adept at engaging the employee.

With businesses fast becoming the new beacon of trust for people globally, it is time for leaders to introspect and seek ways to digitalise to be more efficient when delivering on this new demand.

Much of this starts from home – in this case, from within the organisation. Therefore, now is a good time as ever for HR to look towards digitalisation and mobile-based solutions to improve their internal management such that it can be reflected externally in the wider trust economy.

Digital tools are now at the forefront of building trust and creating a transparent working environment. The right digital tools will allow employers to curate content, activities, and incentives for employees to learn from and take advantage of.

If there are two inevitabilities in the workplace today it is that there is no outrunning technology and that there is no substitute for trust in ensuring optimum productivity.

Marrying these two elements together is the mark of a forward-thinking industry champion and engaged leaders. – April 5, 2021


Cllement Tan is the group CEO and managing director of RAMSSOL Group Bhd

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

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