Tuesday, December 15, 2020, SYDNEY, Australia

Trust is the Foundational Imperative of 2021: Global Research by The Workforce Institute at UKG Explores Why Trust is Hard to Find at Work

As the world prepares to close the book on the unprecedented events of 2020 and is looking at 2021 with renewed hope and optimism, recently published global research from The Workforce Institute at UKG explores the importance of elevating trust to a foundational imperative to create high-performing workplace cultures in 2021.

“Trust in the Modern Workplace” is based on a global survey of nearly 4,000 employees and business leaders in 11 countries1. Commissioned by The Workforce Institute at UKG and conducted by Workplace Intelligence, the report examines the current state of trust—especially between employees and leaders—and the opportunities organisations can create by making trust a foundational element of their employee experience.

Rethinking the trust paradigm in 2021
According to the research, just over a third (37%) of business leaders and employees feel that trust should be presumed at work. Instead, the vast majority—63%—think that trust must be earned. Among C-level leaders, nearly three-quarters (72%) believe that it’s up to the employee to earn trust.

“Trust must constantly be nurtured, and when the organisation’s default position is to presume trust and good intentions, they can reimagine outdated processes and policies to focus on driving performance through a truly modern employee experience,” said Dr. Chris Mullen, Ph.D., SPHR, SHRM-SCP, executive director, The Workforce Institute at UKG. “Trust makes it safe to pursue new innovations and challenge the status quo. It’s a critical element to deliver meaningful and connected experiences.”

Hidden costs of distrust
When employees feel like trust is lacking from their workplace relationships—whether with coworkers, their manager, or in the processes that define the operation—it has many negative consequences.

  • Nearly two-thirds of employees (64%) say trust has a direct impact on their sense of belonging at work, while more than half say it affects their career choices (58%) and their mental health (55%).
  • Employees who don’t feel trusted are less productive with 68% saying that the perception of low trust hurts their daily effort.
  • A lack of trust also hurts talent pools, as more than a fifth of employees (22%) say they did not make a referral because they didn’t trust their company and nearly a quarter (24%) say they’ve left a company because they did not feel trusted.

Trust is a two-way street
Trust goes both ways. While it’s hard for organisations to presume trust in their employees, many employees are also hesitant to trust their employer. In fact, 38% do not trust their organisation to put employee interests ahead of profits.

Where can organisations optimise processes or provide more transparency to foster better trust?

  • Equity: 32% do not trust equal standards for pay and promotions.
  • Diversity: 29% do not trust that their employer will create a diverse and inclusive workplace.
  • Scheduling: 27% do not trust they will be scheduled fairly.
  • Safety: 25% do not trust their employer will create a safe workplace.
  • Payroll: 24% do not trust they will be paid accurately each pay period.Trust is a two-way street

Trust through the COVID-19 pandemic
There is positive news to share: more than half of business leaders and employees (52%) say trust is higher at their organisation today than it was before the pandemic. While 55% still think it’s easier to trust colleagues in a physical workplace versus those working virtually, nearly two-thirds (61%) say the pandemic has positively reshaped perceptions about remote work.

“Work-from-anywhere, at any time, is here to stay, but that doesn’t mean the traditional physical workplace is dead—especially with tens of millions of frontline workers who must be present to do their jobs,” said Dan Schawbel, managing partner, Workplace Intelligence. “Organisations will need to carefully consider how to foster relationships between location-based and remote employees to create a deliberate hybrid model that helps everyone reach their full performance potential—and trust is foundational to making it work.”

Supporting resources


About The Workforce Institute at UKG

The Workforce Institute at UKG provides research and education on critical workplace issues facing organisations worldwide. By bringing together a global consortium of HR and workforce management thought leaders, the think tank is uniquely positioned to empower organisations with practical ideas for optimising the 21st century workplace while also providing an important voice for employees, including frontline and hourly workers. Founded in 2007, a hallmark of The Workforce Institute's research and education—including books, podcasts, surveys, blogs, and its annual list of workplace predictions—is balancing the needs and desires of diverse employee populations with the interests of organisations in order to manage absenteeism, fight burnout, develop equitable work schedules, and build strong leaders, all to drive inspired performance. For additional information, visit www.workforceinstitute.org and join the conversation at @WF_Institute.

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Footnote 1: Survey methodology
Research findings are based on a survey conducted by Savanta, Inc. for Workplace Intelligence on behalf of The Workforce Institute at UKG in June 2020. For this survey, 3,903 domestic and international respondents were asked general questions to explore leadership and employee attitudes around trust in the workplace, digital transformation and crisis response/management. The study targeted people between the ages of 18 and 55 years old. Respondents are recruited through a number of different mechanisms, via different sources to join the panels and participate in market research surveys. All panellists have passed a double opt-in process and complete on average 300 profiling data points prior to taking part in surveys. Respondents are invited to take part via email and are provided with a small monetary incentive for doing so. Results of any sample are subject to sampling variation. The magnitude of the variation is measurable and is affected by the number of interviews and the level of the percentages expressing the results. In this particular study, the chances are 95 in 100 that a survey result does not vary, plus or minus, by more than 1.6 percentage points from the result that would be obtained if interviews had been conducted with all persons in the universe represented by the sample.