COVID-19 report reveals stark difference in leadership trust

According to recent data uncovered by Springfox, the level of leadership trust has dropped for staff during the pandemic, despite leaders maintaining a much more optimistic view.

The Australian Workforce Response to COVID-19 report points to a 21.9% decrease in trust across the 536 working professionals surveyed. However, the split between these numbers tells an interesting story; leaders believing there has been a 16.5% decline, while staff point to a sizeable 32% drop.

MPA spoke with Springfox CEO Stuart Taylor about what this indicates and how brokers can build and maintain better levels of leadership trust during the new normal of the pandemic.

Breaking the “blissful delusion”

Operating under a false assumption of trust is a treacherous position for leaders to be in, says Taylor.

“We’ve known for decades that the level of trust from staff to leaders is at best 50%. But what we actually saw in this report is that there is a significant discrepancy between how much leaders felt trust had diminished for staff versus what staff actually felt.”

He says this position is best summed up as “blissful delusion.”

“The implication is that leaders are falsely believing that continuing with Zoom after Zoom after Zoom is the solution to shoring up trust, but unfortunately it appears that it’s doing the opposite,” he says, explaining that many participants felt a sense of anxiety and hyper vigilance from being made to constantly engage with leaders via video meeting.

The report highlights the response of one participant in particular, whose boss started doing surprise video calls.

“I felt like I had to be at my computer all day, even though I had nothing to do, just in case she called.”

How to build better levels of trust

Taylor says building a high trust culture is one of five key factors that leaders should consider if they want to strike the right balance in the new normal of the pandemic, where some staff may prefer to work from home and others may want to return to the office.

Improving leadership trust starts first and foremost from a position of empathy.

“It’s got to start by understanding where their staff are up to.”

He says reducing the amount of video calls and looking for a more creative way to maintain contact would also help.

“Perhaps there’s a bigger picture here that says, has there been a reclarification of what is our purpose, our goals and each person’s tasks?”

“Clearly through this purpose, this seems to have been lost to the point where people are struggling from an anxiety perspective.”

Managing staff in a hybrid work model

While 40% of respondents claimed they were “okay” about returning to the office to work following lockdown, many reported feeling cautious about this, with females and staff both twice as cautious or anxious as they were excited.

When it comes to managing staff in an environment where some work from home and others from the office, Taylor says there are several factors to consider.

“I think organisations are going to need to build a hybrid model.”

“Everybody needs to get some sort of mixture between home time and office time that might be different for each person, but certainly allows for human contact in the organisation depending on roles.”

Prioritising a high trust culture and maintaining transparency will be paramount in this.

“The challenge I would put to leaders is to be more creative in the way that that occurs.”

“It might be a combination of some meetings, some podcasts, some emails, some different ways of having staff members provide an update for example – so different ways of doing that that isn’t just relentless, all day long back to back meetings.”

Striking the right balance

He says it is important to recognise the needs of both the organisation and its people when mapping out a new way forward.

“This is a fundamental change in the way we do business so there is a need to step back and look at what that balance needs to be.”

He says above all, leaders need to reflect on their actions and ask if they are practicing compassionate leadership.

This is not a matter of just being caring and supportive to staff but also involves a “tough love” approach that strikes the right balance between the greater good of staff and the organisation.