Your employees may not trust you. Here’s what HR can do

As global uncertainty continues to affect organizations and their workforces, trust in the workplace is needed more than ever—but leaders appear to have significant work ahead of them when it comes to building that trust, according to a new study.

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PwC’s 2024 Trust Survey found that just 67% of employees say they trust their employers, despite 86% of business leaders believing they are highly trusted by their employees. Likewise, 86% of executives say they “highly trust” their employees, yet only 60% of employees feel highly trusted by those same leaders.

As employee expectations continue to evolve, these disconnects could grow deeper without ongoing attention by HR and business leaders, says Anthony Abbatiello, PwC’s Workforce Transformation leader.

“Building trust requires consistent investment and sustained efforts over time, much of which can be led by HR,” Abbatiello says.

Evolving opportunities to build trust in the workplace

While employers have increasingly been calling workers back to the office in the last couple of years, with some raising claims about building trust in the workplace, Abbatiello explains that offering flexibility in terms of where and when work gets done can actually enhance trust. For example, in the PwC survey of over 2,000 employees, 71% believe more flexibility in work hours would earn their trust, while 69% say flexibility in work location would do the same.

Anthony Abbatiello, PwC
Anthony Abbatiello, PwC

“Employers can support this by providing the necessary tools and resources for remote and hybrid work setups, such as home office stipends, upgrades to digital collaboration tools or budgets for virtual team-building activities,” he says.

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Leaders also need to be particularly mindful of the impact of AI on trust in the workplace. PwC found that while 69% of employees believe businesses should be transparent about their AI governance framework, only 33% of leaders disclose this information. Similarly, 89% of employees consider data privacy policies important, but only 32% of executives disclose these policies.

“By being transparent about these emerging technology areas, leaders can further boost employee trust,” Abbatiello says.

Expectations around AI transparency are growing alongside similar demands about how companies are managing their environmental impact and climate-related risks. In that vein, a significant 71% of employees find ESG disclosures important, but only 31% of business leaders say they currently disclose this information.

“Clearly, leaders have a great opportunity to raise trust levels by being more transparent about their environmental impact and climate-related risks,” Abbatiello says.

Leaders should work to integrate trust into an organization’s culture, fostering open lines of communication and providing channels for honest feedback from employees. These can be reinforced through meaningful steps like team-building activities, collaborative projects, additional training and mentoring programs, and career advancement opportunities.

These can create “forums for two-way feedback and keep employees informed about important decisions, changes and progress within the organization,” Abbatiello says, and can also strengthen employee experience and business objectives.

Data-driven insights, he adds, can also help make such strategies more sustainable.

“Increasing the efficacy of tracking true employee sentiment and trust over time,” he says, “can assess the effectiveness of trust-building strategies.”

Learn how leading organizations are driving trust in the workplace through people-centric cultures at HRE‘s upcoming EPIC Conference, April 24-26 in Las Vegas. Click here to register.

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Tom Starner
Tom Starner is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia who has been covering the human resource space and all of its component processes for over two decades. He can be reached at [email protected].