As the importance of employee engagement is more widely understood a great deal of research has been done into what HR and business professionals should do to drive engagement and better business and financial performance. One practitioner of this research is Great Place To Work®. It has been investigating workplace culture and best practice globally for over 30 years and has identified the one key factor that all successful organisations have in common.

Trust is fundamental to a good workplace” says Charles Fair, Associate Consultant at Great Place To Work®. “It’s what drives engagement. Our research shows that the average workplace has trust levels of just 55 per cent compared to 86 per cent at top performing organisations like the UK’s Best Workplaces™. Trust manifests itself at all levels but basically people need to be treated with integrity and to be trusted to get on with the job. Without trust it is unlikely that HR policies and programmes will be as effective as intended – or needed.”

So how do we build trust? “In theory it is relatively simple” says Charles Fair. “Leaders can generate trust by treating employees as adults, with respect and fairness, while maintaining the credibility to manage the business effectively. However, that can mean behaving in a way that is not always easy or intuitive”.


Trust-driven culture


There’s a lot of talk about the importance of workplace culture and the figures speak for themselves – 89 per cent of employees at Best Workplaces™ say they have a great culture compared to only 52 per cent at the average organisation. But what does ‘culture’ mean? “Literally, it’s the way things are done around here," says Charles Fair. “It’s about an organisation’s values and ethics, its processes, practices and behaviours. Bosses need to be aware that the behaviours they have in the workplace may not be the ones they actually want. Business leaders need to demonstrate the values that are in line with the behaviours they want in the workplace - for example employees need to know that if a person is exhibiting bad behaviour they will be called out. It has to be very clear what is and is not acceptable.

“Every year Price Waterhouse does a survey of CEOs, which identifies time and time again the importance of organisational culture. A results-driven culture may result in toxic behaviours – such as bullying and harassment – but the fact is that people will not innovate if they operate in a culture where they can’t take a risk. And that will impact on the bottom line. Indeed, many successful organisations credit their culture to their success and many proactively manage it as a means of competitive advantage.”


Strong leadership is essential


The buck stops – and starts – at the top. Strong leaders are essential to lead the desired culture and the strategy and direction of the business. People need to understand what the company is doing be confident about the direction it is headed in. In other words, line managers must take responsibility and translate the big picture into what it actually means for people down on the ground. “The key is communication and involvement,” says Charles Fair. “People need to be informed about the decisions that affect them and there has to be transparency in the business.”