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Employment Relations
Comment will be distributed
free of charge via email. Copies
can also be downloaded from
www.acas.org.uk.
Employment Relations Comment
will provide short accessible
features on topical employment
relations issues.
Features will mainly be written
by members of the Acas
Strategy Unit or other Acas
colleagues. From time to time
however, they may be specially
commissioned externally.
We welcome your comments.
These should be sent to
policypublications@acas.org.uk
The views expressed in
Employment Relations
Comment are those of the
authors and not the Acas
Council.
Employment Relations
Comment November 2012
Placing Trust in Employee Engagement
This month sees the launch of the new report from
the Employee Engagement Taskforce. Acas has a
long standing commitment to making engagement
a reality inside the workplace. The following article
reviews the evidence and considers the role of trust
in creating an engaged workforce.
By Debbie Sanders, Director of Make Work Better
While trust in public institutions including the
press, banks and politicians has taken a battering
in the last few years, there is mounting evidence
to suggest that trust in organisations and leaders
is at an all time low (Searle, Hope-Hailey and
Dietz, 2012, CIPD, 2012b). Bankruptcies and
scandals have hit some household names and an
organisation’s reputation is quickly dissected on
social networking sites and blogs. The widening gap
between the wealthiest and the poorest is set in the
context of remuneration packages for senior leaders
widely regarded as excessive in times of economic
instability. The perception is that senior leaders
have become more remote from their employees
and customers. This loss of trust is a serious issue
for organisations.
In this climate of low trust, organisations continue
to try to develop an engaged workforce. We ask
what role trust plays in employee engagement.
2
Why is trust important to
organisations?
There are many well documented
economic benefits of developing trust
within organisations. Employees who
trust the organisations they work in
tend to demonstrate behaviours such
as sharing information and working well
in teams. These employees also have
higher levels of job satisfaction, are more
likely to recommend their employer to
others and are less likely to leave the
organisation (CIPD 2012a). Employees
are also less likely to resist change
if they trust their employer (Dix and
Oxenbridge 2003).
From this evidence it seems clear that
an organisation built on trust is better
placed to engage its people and in turn,
to adapt, grow and prosper.
Trust is at the heart of good
employee relations and engagement
Trust resides within relationships and
it comes from seeing and experiencing
behaviours which enable us to trust
the other party. In organisations,
these relationships are often complex.
For example, evidence shows that a
relationship built on trust between the
line manager and an employee is crucial
to positive employee engagement. But
what about trust between middle and
senior managers, and between the line
and HR? In workplaces with employee or
union representatives, trust is imperative
between representatives, HR and the
management team if you wish to have a
constructive relationship which supports
the business. As an employee, you also
need to feel trusted by your manager
and your colleagues.
Trust needs to be nurtured, developed
and embedded within all of these
relationships. Lynda Gratton describes
trust as “one of the most precious
commodities a community or an
organisation can have”. She goes on
to say “it lubricates relationships and
the exchange of knowledge and is
crucial to cooperation. Trust… brings us
together and helps us work together”
(2011). Trust is both a by-product and a
necessary pre-requisite for engagement.
MacLeod and Clarke (2009) identified
four key drivers of engagement. We
look at the role of trust in each of these
drivers and ask if employers want to
increase trust in their organisation, where
should they start?
What does the evidence say about
trust and engagement?
Leadership
Leaders are seen as “synonymous with
the organisation itself” (CIPD 2012a) and
yet trust in organisational leaders is in
decline. Leaders create the climate by
their own actions and behaviours, and
how they are perceived has a significant
impact on trust in the organisation as a
whole.
What is it going to take to rebuild trust
in leaders? Some commentators have
gone as far as suggesting that leaders
need to “truly relinquish command and
control styles of leadership in favour of a
relationship based on mutuality” (ACCOR
Services report quoted in MacLeod and
Clarke, 2009).
Others point to the need to develop a
different style of leadership which is
based on humility, personal integrity
and humanity (CIPD 2012a). In this
recent research there are examples of
private and public sector organisations –
Sunderland City Council and Day Lewis
Pharmacy Group, for example – that
faced challenging times and still managed
to enhance trust as their leaders were
3
honest, used open communication and
involved staff in implementing change.
Line managers
There is widespread agreement that
the key relationship that affects trust
throughout the organisation is the
one between the line manager and
the employee. This is developed by
a manager demonstrating consistent
day to day behaviours – used when
giving feedback, setting goals and
demonstrating concern for employee
wellbeing – and by also showing they
trust their employees.
Line managers have been in the
spotlight in recent years as their role in
managing the employment relationship
has grown. Concern has arisen over
both the competence and confidence of
managers to undertake this role. But to
do this role well managers also need to
trust their senior managers. The attitude
of middle managers, influenced heavily
by their view of leaders, can damage
trust throughout the whole organisation.
This is especially important if front
line employees interact directly with
customers. In these cases, “the more
crucial it was that the link between senior
managers, line managers and employees
was not broken” (CIPD 2012a).
Organisations that have tried to address
this issue of leadership capability such as
the Mace Group, Standard Chartered and
Network Rail (MacLeod and Clarke 2009)
have invested in core leadership and
management skills such as giving praise
and recognition, enabling and supporting
employees to do their job, developing
and evaluating individuals, often with a
focus on coaching as a key management
competency.
Employee voice
Trust is vital for genuine employee voice.
Without trust it is difficult to imagine why
employees or their representatives would
be open and honest about their views. In
a culture of distrust it is highly unlikely
that managers will share information to
enable employees to fully understand the
organisation and its challenges.
Research and experience has
demonstrated that union and employer
relationships suffer when there is a lack
of trust. According to a CIPD report in
2011, a lack of trust on both sides was
the second biggest obstacle to effective
partnership working between managers
and union representatives. In high trust
relationships, union representatives are
involved in the early stages of decision
making. Both parties see an opportunity
to solve a problem rather than blame the
other for the problem or seek to push
the problem through a formal and often
protracted structure or policy. Sharing
information and engaging in open
and honest dialogue are the types of
behaviours that can lead to a culture of
mutual trust in union and management
relationships (Saundry, McArdle and
Thomas, 2011). Purcell and Hall go as
far as saying that “a culture of mutual
cooperation and trust” is one of the six
necessary requirements for constructive
consultation (Purcell and Hall 2012).
Further research claims that trust is
high where employees are encouraged
to make improvements to how their
job is done (CIPD 2012a). This appears
to be endorsed by organisational case
studies in the MacLeod report. Those
organisations that trust their employees
to help develop and implement
solutions – such as first direct and the
London Ambulance Service – report
improvements in a number of areas
such as customer service scores and
engagement indicators.
Interestingly, there is evidence to suggest
that trust is lower when organisations
try to elicit employee voice by methods
4
such as surveys, formal engagement
policies and any form of representative
participation (Guest et al quoted in CIPD
2012a). However, there is a dilemma
here which needs further exploration. Do
these practices reduce trust or are they
more likely to be used in workplaces with
low trust as a starting point?
Integrity
Finally, integrity is the fourth factor
essential to building an engaged
workforce. For MacLeod and Clarke there
is a clear link between the behaviour
of leaders and the stated values of the
organisation. A gap between these two
suggests the values are hollow and this
leads to a reduction in trust. Integrity
is also one of the four dimensions of
trustworthiness (the others are ability,
benevolence and predictability) which
help us to decide whether we trust
leaders, managers or organisations,
according to Searle et al (2012).
It is so easy for organisations to
articulate the “right” values in terms
of equality, diversity, bullying or
engagement, for example. The harder
part is ensuring that leaders throughout
the organisation embody these values in
their day to day behaviours and deal with
those who ignore or flout the espoused
values. The Eden project is an interesting
example of an organisation that has
successfully embodied its values into the
day to day working lives of its employees
(MacLeod and Clarke, 2009).
What do high trust workplaces look
like?
By reviewing a number of good practice
organisational case studies, we can pull
out the types of activities and behaviours
which lead to cultures based on trust.
These include:
•	 Leaders who keep employees
informed of strategic business
decisions, share business
information regularly and who
honestly say when times are tough.
•	 Leaders who enable employees
to contribute to organisational
strategy and influence decisions
before they are made.
•	 Leaders and managers who
consciously develop a supportive
work climate, admit mistakes and
show how they will be doing things
differently in future.
•	 Leaders who trust their teams to
develop and implement solutions
such as how they manage their
time at work and how products or
services can be improved.
•	 Developing leadership and
management skills so that key
behaviours which build trust
are reinforced and embedded
throughout the organisation.
•	 Using a variety of methods –
direct and indirect – for capturing
employee voice and then listening
and acting upon the ideas of
employees.
Creating high trust workplaces
There are some practical steps that
organisations can undertake to build and
rebuild trust. These are:
•	 Be honest and ask yourself whether
your organisational values and
leadership style are truly aligned.
Evaluate your leadership skills
and ensure leaders are visible and
genuinely listen to and act upon
employee views.
5
•	 Train managers to lead based on
trust not micro-management or
enforcement. Ask yourselves what
traits and behaviours will develop
a culture of trust and agree how
you can develop these in your
managers.
•	 Consider different and appropriate
ways of enabling employees to
regularly express their views – this
may be through a formal structure
or it may be more ad hoc through
working groups, project teams or
team meetings. Ensure the line
manager is at the heart of this
approach.
•	 Trust your employees to contribute
ideas, be innovative and to solve
problems.
•	 If you have a consultative
forum, train your managers and
representatives. Managers need
to share information, some of
which is sensitive and they need to
trust reps to keep it confidential.
Managers need to listen to
representatives’ views and explain
their decisions.
•	 Use joint problem solving groups
of union representatives and
managers to resolve ongoing or
pressing issues which will increase
cooperation and trust.
•	 Review your employee forums
regularly to ensure they are
achieving their objectives, address
the right issues and that they
are a trusted mechanism for
employee voice.
What does the future hold for trust
and engagement?
The debate around how best to engage
employees is not new but is still puzzling
employers today as much as it was fifty
years ago. As trust in organisations
falls, employers have serious work
to do if they wish to engage today’s
employees and those of the future. For
many workers – whatever their age or
background – hierarchies, command and
control cultures and getting on by playing
organisational games are off putting and
do not lead to trust or engagement.
The annual “trust barometer” produced
by Edelman (trust.edelman.com)
suggests that the factors that will shape
future trust levels are changing. The
factors will be less about consistent
financial returns and highly regarded
senior leadership. They will be more
about putting customers ahead of profits
and listening to customer feedback.
The 2012 report says “the path forward
requires more of a focus on societal and
employee facing issues”. It increasingly
seems that tinkering at the edges is not
going to rebuild trust and that something
more radical is required.
6
Bibliography
CIPD (2011) ER Survey Report
CIPD (2012a) Where has all the trust gone?
CIPD (2012b) Employee Outlook Survey
Dix, G and Oxenbridge, S (2003). Information and consultation at work – from
challenges to good practice. Acas Research and Evaluation section, October 2003
Gratton, L. (2011). The Shift: the future of work is already here, Harper Collins,
London
MacLeod, D and Clarke, N (2009). Engaging for Success: Enhancing performance
through employee engagement
Purcell J and Hall M (2012). Voice and Participation in the modern workplace:
Challenges and Prospects, Acas Future of Workplace Relations series
Saundry, R. McArdle, L, Thomas P (2011). Transforming Conflict Management in the
Public Sector - Mediation Trade Unions and Partnerships in a Primary Care Trust,
iROWE, University of Central Lancashire, Acas Research Paper
Searle, R. Hope-Hailey, V and Dietz G (2012). Who do you trust? Understanding
how to repair organisational trust. For full report see, Where has all the trust gone?
published by CIPD

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Placing Trust in Employee Engagement by Acas Council

  • 1. 1 Employment Relations Comment will be distributed free of charge via email. Copies can also be downloaded from www.acas.org.uk. Employment Relations Comment will provide short accessible features on topical employment relations issues. Features will mainly be written by members of the Acas Strategy Unit or other Acas colleagues. From time to time however, they may be specially commissioned externally. We welcome your comments. These should be sent to policypublications@acas.org.uk The views expressed in Employment Relations Comment are those of the authors and not the Acas Council. Employment Relations Comment November 2012 Placing Trust in Employee Engagement This month sees the launch of the new report from the Employee Engagement Taskforce. Acas has a long standing commitment to making engagement a reality inside the workplace. The following article reviews the evidence and considers the role of trust in creating an engaged workforce. By Debbie Sanders, Director of Make Work Better While trust in public institutions including the press, banks and politicians has taken a battering in the last few years, there is mounting evidence to suggest that trust in organisations and leaders is at an all time low (Searle, Hope-Hailey and Dietz, 2012, CIPD, 2012b). Bankruptcies and scandals have hit some household names and an organisation’s reputation is quickly dissected on social networking sites and blogs. The widening gap between the wealthiest and the poorest is set in the context of remuneration packages for senior leaders widely regarded as excessive in times of economic instability. The perception is that senior leaders have become more remote from their employees and customers. This loss of trust is a serious issue for organisations. In this climate of low trust, organisations continue to try to develop an engaged workforce. We ask what role trust plays in employee engagement.
  • 2. 2 Why is trust important to organisations? There are many well documented economic benefits of developing trust within organisations. Employees who trust the organisations they work in tend to demonstrate behaviours such as sharing information and working well in teams. These employees also have higher levels of job satisfaction, are more likely to recommend their employer to others and are less likely to leave the organisation (CIPD 2012a). Employees are also less likely to resist change if they trust their employer (Dix and Oxenbridge 2003). From this evidence it seems clear that an organisation built on trust is better placed to engage its people and in turn, to adapt, grow and prosper. Trust is at the heart of good employee relations and engagement Trust resides within relationships and it comes from seeing and experiencing behaviours which enable us to trust the other party. In organisations, these relationships are often complex. For example, evidence shows that a relationship built on trust between the line manager and an employee is crucial to positive employee engagement. But what about trust between middle and senior managers, and between the line and HR? In workplaces with employee or union representatives, trust is imperative between representatives, HR and the management team if you wish to have a constructive relationship which supports the business. As an employee, you also need to feel trusted by your manager and your colleagues. Trust needs to be nurtured, developed and embedded within all of these relationships. Lynda Gratton describes trust as “one of the most precious commodities a community or an organisation can have”. She goes on to say “it lubricates relationships and the exchange of knowledge and is crucial to cooperation. Trust… brings us together and helps us work together” (2011). Trust is both a by-product and a necessary pre-requisite for engagement. MacLeod and Clarke (2009) identified four key drivers of engagement. We look at the role of trust in each of these drivers and ask if employers want to increase trust in their organisation, where should they start? What does the evidence say about trust and engagement? Leadership Leaders are seen as “synonymous with the organisation itself” (CIPD 2012a) and yet trust in organisational leaders is in decline. Leaders create the climate by their own actions and behaviours, and how they are perceived has a significant impact on trust in the organisation as a whole. What is it going to take to rebuild trust in leaders? Some commentators have gone as far as suggesting that leaders need to “truly relinquish command and control styles of leadership in favour of a relationship based on mutuality” (ACCOR Services report quoted in MacLeod and Clarke, 2009). Others point to the need to develop a different style of leadership which is based on humility, personal integrity and humanity (CIPD 2012a). In this recent research there are examples of private and public sector organisations – Sunderland City Council and Day Lewis Pharmacy Group, for example – that faced challenging times and still managed to enhance trust as their leaders were
  • 3. 3 honest, used open communication and involved staff in implementing change. Line managers There is widespread agreement that the key relationship that affects trust throughout the organisation is the one between the line manager and the employee. This is developed by a manager demonstrating consistent day to day behaviours – used when giving feedback, setting goals and demonstrating concern for employee wellbeing – and by also showing they trust their employees. Line managers have been in the spotlight in recent years as their role in managing the employment relationship has grown. Concern has arisen over both the competence and confidence of managers to undertake this role. But to do this role well managers also need to trust their senior managers. The attitude of middle managers, influenced heavily by their view of leaders, can damage trust throughout the whole organisation. This is especially important if front line employees interact directly with customers. In these cases, “the more crucial it was that the link between senior managers, line managers and employees was not broken” (CIPD 2012a). Organisations that have tried to address this issue of leadership capability such as the Mace Group, Standard Chartered and Network Rail (MacLeod and Clarke 2009) have invested in core leadership and management skills such as giving praise and recognition, enabling and supporting employees to do their job, developing and evaluating individuals, often with a focus on coaching as a key management competency. Employee voice Trust is vital for genuine employee voice. Without trust it is difficult to imagine why employees or their representatives would be open and honest about their views. In a culture of distrust it is highly unlikely that managers will share information to enable employees to fully understand the organisation and its challenges. Research and experience has demonstrated that union and employer relationships suffer when there is a lack of trust. According to a CIPD report in 2011, a lack of trust on both sides was the second biggest obstacle to effective partnership working between managers and union representatives. In high trust relationships, union representatives are involved in the early stages of decision making. Both parties see an opportunity to solve a problem rather than blame the other for the problem or seek to push the problem through a formal and often protracted structure or policy. Sharing information and engaging in open and honest dialogue are the types of behaviours that can lead to a culture of mutual trust in union and management relationships (Saundry, McArdle and Thomas, 2011). Purcell and Hall go as far as saying that “a culture of mutual cooperation and trust” is one of the six necessary requirements for constructive consultation (Purcell and Hall 2012). Further research claims that trust is high where employees are encouraged to make improvements to how their job is done (CIPD 2012a). This appears to be endorsed by organisational case studies in the MacLeod report. Those organisations that trust their employees to help develop and implement solutions – such as first direct and the London Ambulance Service – report improvements in a number of areas such as customer service scores and engagement indicators. Interestingly, there is evidence to suggest that trust is lower when organisations try to elicit employee voice by methods
  • 4. 4 such as surveys, formal engagement policies and any form of representative participation (Guest et al quoted in CIPD 2012a). However, there is a dilemma here which needs further exploration. Do these practices reduce trust or are they more likely to be used in workplaces with low trust as a starting point? Integrity Finally, integrity is the fourth factor essential to building an engaged workforce. For MacLeod and Clarke there is a clear link between the behaviour of leaders and the stated values of the organisation. A gap between these two suggests the values are hollow and this leads to a reduction in trust. Integrity is also one of the four dimensions of trustworthiness (the others are ability, benevolence and predictability) which help us to decide whether we trust leaders, managers or organisations, according to Searle et al (2012). It is so easy for organisations to articulate the “right” values in terms of equality, diversity, bullying or engagement, for example. The harder part is ensuring that leaders throughout the organisation embody these values in their day to day behaviours and deal with those who ignore or flout the espoused values. The Eden project is an interesting example of an organisation that has successfully embodied its values into the day to day working lives of its employees (MacLeod and Clarke, 2009). What do high trust workplaces look like? By reviewing a number of good practice organisational case studies, we can pull out the types of activities and behaviours which lead to cultures based on trust. These include: • Leaders who keep employees informed of strategic business decisions, share business information regularly and who honestly say when times are tough. • Leaders who enable employees to contribute to organisational strategy and influence decisions before they are made. • Leaders and managers who consciously develop a supportive work climate, admit mistakes and show how they will be doing things differently in future. • Leaders who trust their teams to develop and implement solutions such as how they manage their time at work and how products or services can be improved. • Developing leadership and management skills so that key behaviours which build trust are reinforced and embedded throughout the organisation. • Using a variety of methods – direct and indirect – for capturing employee voice and then listening and acting upon the ideas of employees. Creating high trust workplaces There are some practical steps that organisations can undertake to build and rebuild trust. These are: • Be honest and ask yourself whether your organisational values and leadership style are truly aligned. Evaluate your leadership skills and ensure leaders are visible and genuinely listen to and act upon employee views.
  • 5. 5 • Train managers to lead based on trust not micro-management or enforcement. Ask yourselves what traits and behaviours will develop a culture of trust and agree how you can develop these in your managers. • Consider different and appropriate ways of enabling employees to regularly express their views – this may be through a formal structure or it may be more ad hoc through working groups, project teams or team meetings. Ensure the line manager is at the heart of this approach. • Trust your employees to contribute ideas, be innovative and to solve problems. • If you have a consultative forum, train your managers and representatives. Managers need to share information, some of which is sensitive and they need to trust reps to keep it confidential. Managers need to listen to representatives’ views and explain their decisions. • Use joint problem solving groups of union representatives and managers to resolve ongoing or pressing issues which will increase cooperation and trust. • Review your employee forums regularly to ensure they are achieving their objectives, address the right issues and that they are a trusted mechanism for employee voice. What does the future hold for trust and engagement? The debate around how best to engage employees is not new but is still puzzling employers today as much as it was fifty years ago. As trust in organisations falls, employers have serious work to do if they wish to engage today’s employees and those of the future. For many workers – whatever their age or background – hierarchies, command and control cultures and getting on by playing organisational games are off putting and do not lead to trust or engagement. The annual “trust barometer” produced by Edelman (trust.edelman.com) suggests that the factors that will shape future trust levels are changing. The factors will be less about consistent financial returns and highly regarded senior leadership. They will be more about putting customers ahead of profits and listening to customer feedback. The 2012 report says “the path forward requires more of a focus on societal and employee facing issues”. It increasingly seems that tinkering at the edges is not going to rebuild trust and that something more radical is required.
  • 6. 6 Bibliography CIPD (2011) ER Survey Report CIPD (2012a) Where has all the trust gone? CIPD (2012b) Employee Outlook Survey Dix, G and Oxenbridge, S (2003). Information and consultation at work – from challenges to good practice. Acas Research and Evaluation section, October 2003 Gratton, L. (2011). The Shift: the future of work is already here, Harper Collins, London MacLeod, D and Clarke, N (2009). Engaging for Success: Enhancing performance through employee engagement Purcell J and Hall M (2012). Voice and Participation in the modern workplace: Challenges and Prospects, Acas Future of Workplace Relations series Saundry, R. McArdle, L, Thomas P (2011). Transforming Conflict Management in the Public Sector - Mediation Trade Unions and Partnerships in a Primary Care Trust, iROWE, University of Central Lancashire, Acas Research Paper Searle, R. Hope-Hailey, V and Dietz G (2012). Who do you trust? Understanding how to repair organisational trust. For full report see, Where has all the trust gone? published by CIPD