Can the care built during COVID-19 establish a long-term workplace culture of trust?

Kate Field (CMIOSH), BSI’s Global Head, Health, Safety and Well-being, reflects on whether the culture of care driven by the global pandemic can translate to long-term trust between worker and employer.

Why has it taken a global pandemic to create a culture of care in the workplace, when there has clearly been a need for it for decades?

For the culture of care to emerge, a far more important cultural shift has had to happen. If fully embraced, this evolution has far reaching, powerful and exciting benefits for organizations and the individuals that work for them. The challenge with acknowledging this shift though, is to admit the most crucial factor – trust – was missing before.

Trust is the output of the culture of an organization. It is established and underpinned by leadership and their individual and group values, attitudes, managerial practices, perceptions, competencies, and patterns of behaviours – these establish and underpin the level of trust. Trust always exists but it can be misplaced, abused, or of course strengthened. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted an uncomfortable truth – organizations do not trust their people.

This lack of trust and the culture that underpins it can be seen in many different aspects of an organization and its approach to its people; performance management is focussed on output KPIs, not input; weekly timesheets are required; flexible or home working is not allowed.

Lack of trust is not always explicit; it can be masked by plausible business parlance: reward and bonus packages; time and resource management; ICT infrastructure.

The erosion of trust is like the sea relentlessly hitting a cliff face – a steady, almost imperceptible erosion undermining the strength and resilience of the organization. The signs of this erosion of trust are clearly seen in business challenges reported by organizations:

  • Restricted growth
  • Troublesome quality and output issues
  • Poor productivity
  • Talent and skills shortages
  • Lack of innovation and agility creating an unease about competitiveness and resilience
  • Plateaued (or reversed) health and safety incident reductions
  • Worker engagement metrics that stubbornly fail to improve (or even get worse)
  • Increased levels of complaints – internally and by clients/customers
  • Increasing reports of stress, burnout and mental-ill.
  • Increasing absence and retention rates

Whilst the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed this uncomfortable truth, it has also fanned a flickering ember of hope – trust has been tested and historic fears based on unfounded assumptions have been challenged.

The biggest test of trust has happened due to the enforced shift to home working. Organizations had simply not trusted their workers to work at home, fearing that they would abuse the freedom and not deliver the work.

Yet during COVID-19 vast swathes of the working population went from working in an office one day to working in their kitchen the next and productivity went up – not down. The significant arguments against home working vanished overnight and organizations realized that workers could indeed be trusted.

BSI’s Prioritizing People Model© is focussed on creating trust to unlock an individuals’ full potential, to provide the right framework for fulfilment and well-being. We believe it provides a routemap for an organization’s journey to cultural maturity and the opportunity to realize its full potential through the well-being of its people.

Find out more by downloading the prioritizing people whitepaper.