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Trust & Performance – Managing the Return to Work

When the pandemic hit back in March, organisations’ first priority in response to the crisis was ensuring workers’ health & safety. As organisations begin to emerge from this phase, what factors must leaders now focus on to successfully address the next set of workforce challenges as they plan for the return of their workforce, and for the recovery?

In this latest report, Gary Brown of Winningtemp outlines the key factors organisations are seeking to address, and the 3 actions to help take your organisation and people on the right path to recovery.

In the latest surveys with HR professionals, the #1 topic in “back to work” was “how do we make it optional to return, yet create a safe set of workplace protocols that people will trust?

The issue of safety is clearly key amongst workers and leaders. However, in a recent survey by Culture X, 54% of employees rated Job Security as their number one concern, with Personal Health coming in second at 38%.

Therefore, whilst physical factors such as effective social distancing protocols, hygiene measures etc. are paramount to ensure workers feel safe to return, it is just as important for leaders to address concerns around job security head-on in order to maintain and build trust amongst their workforce.

But how can leaders address such concerns?

Today’s new business environment is characterised by disruption and uncertainty.

With high profile companies such as BP, Rolls Royce, British Gas, and Heathrow announcing new job losses almost daily, workers know that the economic outlook is uncertain. Add to that the expansion of remote working, the displacement of many services to tech-based solutions, and the requirement for many firms to consider reducing working hours or headcount in order to manage a slow climb back to previous activity levels, and it should come as no surprise that the Mental Health Foundation recently reported that 56% of adults surveyed said their mental health had deteriorated since lockdown began, and a recent study by Gallup found overall percentages of people “thriving” has dropped to Great Recession-era lows.

Why building trust is so important

It takes an exceptional level of resilience for organisations and employees to thrive in such an uncertain and radically disrupted climate. However, unclear plans of action create further mistrust.

Whilst employers scored highly in the initial handling of the crisis, (with 89% of workers saying senior leaders put measures in place to ensure people felt supported during the initial phase), a worrying 52% of employees felt their management was ‘not very’, or ‘not at all’ effective in making expectations explicit. (2020 Talent Implication Survey).

Employees’ need for information is more acute in a time of crisis, as is their need to trust leaders. This requires increased listening as well as increased messaging. Addressing this trust deficit will affect the success of your company’s return-to-work transition plans.

Employees’ need for information is more acute in a time of crisis, as is their need to trust leaders. This requires increased listening as well as increased messaging.

Maintaining Performance through the transition

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the number of people who have worked remotely because of concern about the coronavirus has risen by 46%. In the U.S. this is equal to 63% or almost two-thirds of all employees. (Gallup)

And as the CEO of Barclays bank, Jes Staley, recently told The New York Times: “The notion of putting 7,000 people in a building may be a thing of the past.

In this new environment – where coffee catch-ups, office gossip, or having a moan about your boss to the colleague who sits next to you is no longer a natural part of your working day – greater information exchange and trust in the leadership become even more closely related.

When they’re absent, employee performance suffers.

Prior to the pandemic, Gallup analysis found a correlation in France between workers believing leadership can successfully manage emerging challenges and being more likely to be engaged. And employee engagement, or the lack thereof, absolutely affects productivity and performance outcomes for workers.

They found that to repair employees’ sense of broken trust, French leaders needed to signal that they’re not just pondering, but acting and sharing what answers they have, that they’re creating solutions where they can and have mastery over the elements within their control.

Despite the many unknown factors — which workers understand — leaders’ motto should be “the situation is serious, but we are working on it.

Consider the consequences that come from these two different types of organisational cultures:

1. High trust:

Employees who trust their leaders are twice as likely to say they will be with their company one year from now. High-trust organisations also have an enormous advantage in the speed with which any new initiative will take hold. And even when there are periodic mistakes in decisions or communication, employees will give leaders the benefit of the doubt.

2. Low trust:

When people don’t trust leaders, they’re already planning their exit and have no interest in making a new strategy work or creating new customer initiatives.

There’s nothing in it for them; they’ve already mentally checked out.

Despite the many unknown factors – which workers understand – leaders’ motto should be “the situation is serious, but we are working on it.”

Actions you can take

In a recent webinar, we shared case studies from E-On, PwC and AddSecure on the 3 actions that our clients are adopting to address the issue of building Trust and Performance during this period of change.

The 3 key actions: Humility, Re-define KPI’s and Daring to Act.

Humility & increased listening = increased trust

As a leader, it’s ok to not have all the answers. Instead, listen to the staff in your team more. Increase the opportunities for feedback, especially anonymous feedback to allow less confident team members the opportunity to have their concerns heard or questions answered.

Remote workers are 3 times more likely to be engaged if they receive feedback from their manager at least a few times per month. If you are going through periods of change – ask your people how they feel about this change. How they are adjusting, are things moving too fast or too slow? Is the process clear or do you need to spell things out more? Share your company’s planned response to challenges.

By being humble, increasing your listening, and showing how employee feedback is helping you make decisions for the business – you will increase levels of trust amongst your teams. Through periods of uncertainty and change, trust is often the most valuable commodity in any organisation.

Re-define KPI’s – what gets measured gets achieved

You’ve probably put a number of initiatives in place to help your workers adapt to working from home and returning to the workplace safely. How effective are they? What impact are they having on your people as you take them through this change period? What impact are they having on maintaining your performance levels, keeping morale high, ensuring you retain your key people, and your ability to attract people with new skills when required?

Being clear of what is most important to you and what is expected of your employees right now is paramount. Communicating this clearly is a great start. Measuring your progress against these new KPI’s in real-time is going to make all the difference.

Dare to Act – use data to stay agile

Taking bold actions during periods of change can be scary. But failing to act quickly can be paralysing for an organisation. Having the confidence to take actions to remain agile in this period comes down to one thing: real-time data.

Using real-time data to support your leadership discussions will enable you to address concerns before they impact the business, pivot quickly, and take your people with you.

Data-backed decision making will give you the confidence to take action in areas that may just make the difference between your organisation surviving or thriving in your return to full capacity.

Returning your workforce to the new normal will require renewed workforce planning, job restructuring and the establishment of ongoing employee engagement measures to weather the initial change, the potential of the second wave of COVID-19, and a prolonged downturn in the economy.

By taking steps to build levels of trust and maintain levels of performance through this transition phase, you will lead your teams into ‘Workplace 2.0’ with a revived spirit equipped to manage any change successfully.

Gary Brown

Gary Brown is a business and workforce growth specialist who has worked with some of the world's leading innovative HR Saas pioneers where big data and AI is being used to increase engagement of workers, support leadership and increase performance for employers.

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