Blog – Are You Building A Culture Of Trust?

by Shaun McCarthy

trust /trʌst/ Noun 1.the firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something.

“Two thirds of employers do not trust their staff to work remotely survey finds”, or so screams the headline to the UK’s People Management magazine (1).  According to the article, many business managers still fail to recognise their workers unfolding needs to support a flexible hybrid setting.

Further to this, the survey of 1,500 business decision-makers across Europe highlighted a staggering 39% believed their staff do not work as hard or as effectively at home. Similar headlines in management magazines around the UK and across EU denoted an erosion of trust among colleagues and managers in remote work-from-home arrangements.

The impact of trust, or the lack of it, in organisations is not new. Douglas McGregor, in his ground-breaking 1960 book, The Human Side of Enterprise (it was voted the 4th most influential book of the 20th century by the Academy of Management) highlighted his theory X and theory Y approaches to management (2). In short, theory X managers believe that employees are inherently lazy, find work boring and wouldn’t work if they didn’t need the money and therefore require close supervision. Theory Y managers on the other hand, believe that employees can find work as satisfying as play, enjoy challenges and thus do not require close supervision.

The key word in those theories is the word ‘believe’. Such beliefs are based upon the assumptions the manager holds about people. Today we would call that ‘mindset’. And what the sudden and unplanned move to remote working as a consequence of the global pandemic has shown us is that theory X style of management is still alive and well today!

Trust is more than some ‘touchy feely’ vague idea. It is very real. Trust is like oil in a machine; everything just works so well when the machine is well oiled.  As food for thought, a recent SHRM (US Society of Human Resource Management) (3) article cited 3 key statistics:

  1. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer (a survey of 33,000 people in 28 countries), 1 in 3 employees don’t trust their employer.
  2. SHRM research shows that when there is more trust in the workplace employees are 23% more likely to offer ideas and solutions.
  3. In its global CEO survey PwC reported that 55% of CEOs think a lack of trust is a threat to their organisation’s growth, (4).


The notion of trust impacts every aspect of the organisational system. A lack of trust initiates feelings of suspicion and fear amongst staff, it stifles innovation and effectively creates a toxic culture.

1. Technology:

Do you use electronic monitoring systems? Call it what you like, this is employee surveillance. It’s a technological answer to a human question. Forbes magazine reports that demand for electronic monitoring technology increased by 74% in March 2020 compared to March 2019, (5). Such a reaction simply confirms the comments above regarding theory X management. It simply is a lack of trust.

Keep in mind that digital monitoring is a form of micro-managing and has similar consequences in terms of engagement and productivity. If you are required by law or industry risk management requirements (eg finance sector), or for some reason feel the need to digitally monitor employees, then communication is the key.

2. Leadership:

How do you lead and manage performance in this new environment? In July The Harvard Business review reported on a longitudinal study involving 1200 people in 24 different countries that showed:

  • 40% of the supervisors and managers in the group expressed low self confidence in their ability to manage workers remotely.
  • 38% of managers agreed with the statement that remote workers usually perform worse than those who work in an office.
  • 41% mangers agreed with the statement “I am sceptical as to whether remote workers can stay motivated in the long term”, (6).

The point about lack of self-confidence is a critical one, as this will generally lead to lack of confidence in others as a way of ‘compensating’ for this.

So, we should recognise that managing people working remotely is (or at least is perceived as being) different to managing them in the office. You will need to, for your industry, identify what these differences are. If they are not obvious then perhaps a survey of you managers asking what they see the differences as being might help. This could be done by collating responses to questions asked during one-on-one coaching sessions. Once identified, then either communicate these to managers if they are fairly straightforward or build them into your management training programs.

The key is for managers to remain visible. Use videoconferencing to see and be seen. Keep one-on-one check-ins very regular, even if it’s just a personal catch-up. Keep team meetings regular also. In contrast to the old adage “familiarity breeds contempt’, work on the assumption that “familiarity breeds trust”, but in doing so, managers need to ensure they are behaving in a constructive way.

More than ever, managers are going to need to focus on the employees’ personal wellbeing. The need for Humanistic-Encouraging management/leadership style is critical. Genuine consideration, compassion, concern and support will become key leadership requirements.

3. Culture:

Without trust, feelings of paranoia can run rife among your team. Does your current culture encourage or inhibit trust? If it is the former, so it requires a Constructive culture. Those organisations with Aggressive/Defensive cultures will default to a controlling approach which will inevitably lead to low trust. Perfectionistic culture will seek ways to do everything ‘perfectly’ and thus will be slow in responding to both customers and employee’s needs.

Those with Passive/Defensive cultures will emphasise the avoidance of any kind of risk and in doing so, be overly process-oriented to help meet this need. They are also likely, in typical Avoidance style, to see this as a short-term thing that will ‘return to normal‘ soon enough.

It is also possible that these defensive culture organisations will get caught up in all the exciting rhetoric about ‘the future of work’ and in an effort to be ‘fashionable’, dive into something without any planning and careful execution.

To help build a culture that supports trust:

Communicate – a lot. The goal is to reduce a sense of isolation and at the same time build trust. Not just communication downwards, but upwards well. Create regular opportunities for people to push ideas up. This is easily done through leaders’ one-on-ones.

Communication downwards should focus on the ‘big picture’ context for the organisation, storytelling related to achievements and success stories amongst the organisation’s people, along with honest and clear information regarding how the organisation is performing.

Push autonomy as far down the organisation as possible, giving people responsibility to increase trust. This will require responsible delegating by mangers and leaders.

Empower your people – make sure they have the support and tools necessary to excel in times of change.

Examine your performance appraisal system and process. It’s likely not to work so easily with remote workers (if it’s actually working at all). Remote working is going to require different skills than previously deemed important. Resilience for instance, flexibility and the ability to adapt. For mangers, compassion, consideration, and facilitative leadership are going to be key requirements.

As part of performance appraisal, managers and leaders are going to, more than ever before, be aware of their own biases and prejudices. With less face-to-face contact, any manger in evaluation mode is going to be influenced by their own attributions to others and the assumptions they make about their people based on these biases.

Make sure your goal setting system shows clear relationships between organisational goals, unit goals, team goals and individual goals, so people can see the link between personal and organisational purpose.

With thanks to:


1. Houghton, Ben, (August, 2021). People Management, Two Thirds Of Employers Do Not Trust Their Staff To Work Remotely, Survey Finds,, remotely-survey-finds
2McGregor, D. (1960). The Human Side Of Enterprise. McGraw-Hill.
3. Huffington, A. (May 4, 2022), SHRM, Mutual Trust Is Key To The Success Of Your Business
4. Price Waterhouse Cooper, (n.d). Retrieved
5. Kurkowski, H. (Dec 8, 2021). Forbes Magazine, Monitoring Remote Workers, The Good, The Bad & The Ugly,
6. Parker, S, Knight, C, Keller, A. (July 20, 2020). Harvard Business Review, Remote Managers Are Having Trust Issues,


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