Better hybrid workplaces are built with trust and empathy

Trust is crucial at a hybrid workplace. But it’s often hard to find between colleagues. According to the Citrix Work Balanced report, 8 in 10 employees say it’s important to have an employer they can trust. However, less than half the workforce says they actually trust their bosses. Learn how some business leaders are figuring out a new road map to a more inclusive and empathetic workplace.

PODCAST | 22m 
October 12, 2022
S5:Ep3

 

Executive summary

  • Learn how the Trust Leadership Institute at PwC is building community trust within their organization.
  • Hear why the concept of presenteeism is out of date but still hard to break.

Featured voices

  • Caroline Knight, Research Fellow, Curtin University’s Future of Work Institute
  • Bhushan Sethi, Global Leader, People and Organization, PwC

MELANIE GREEN

Welcome to Remote Works - an original podcast from Citrix. I’m Melanie Green.

 

This season we’re exploring the way hybrid work is affecting people’s work lives. We'll delve into the innovative ways companies are adapting to hybrid work, and the challenges that remain for managers and employees.

 

Today – why trust and empathy are the lynchpins of a healthy hybrid workplace.

 

BHUSHAN SETHI
One way trust really shows up is when we think about our return to office or hybrid work plans. And leaders need a new map, they need a new model for how to lead in this environment.

MELANIE GREEN

Trust. Is. Crucial.

 

According to the Citrix Work Rebalanced report, 8 in 10 employees say that it’s important to have an employer they can trust … but only 49% say that they actually trust their employer.

 

And lots of people are talking about this lack of trust – but doing so anonymously. Entire Reddit threads are devoted to a lack of trust at work, shared by employees who all feel the need to remain anonymous.

 

ANONYMOUS REDDIT USER 1
I feel like I'm untrusted. We have to be in the office so they can make sure that we work. Yet I can look around at any time and see half my team fiddling on their phones. It just makes very little sense to me.

 

ANONYMOUS REDDIT USER 2
Does anyone have experience with Employee Monitoring software? I am not a fan of the idea but management wants it deployed on staff laptops if we have people work from home for various reasons. Wow, I feel gross asking for this stuff but not sure how else you verify the employee is doing what they say they are doing.

 

MELANIE GREEN

This question about how to use employee tracking software is more common than you think. Almost half the employers surveyed for the Work Rebalanced report say they have installed tracking software on their remote employees' computers to keep track of their work, and another 32% say they are considering doing so.

 

Of course, there are some industries where tracking software is necessary for regulatory reasons – and in that case it wouldn’t be much different from a worker’s in-office computer set-up.

 

But in a workplace where that ISN’T the case, this tactic can lead to resentment and loss of morale. Or even staff quitting.

 

ANONYMOUS REDDIT USER 3
Frankly I would 100% quit if I worked somewhere that did that.

 

MELANIE GREEN

Despite the past two years of remote working – and all the data that has been collected around how working from home often makes people MORE productive – half of business leaders STILL believe that, when out of sight from colleagues and bosses, employees don’t work as hard.

 

ANONYMOUS REDDIT USER 4
My manager legit told me she likes me being in the office so she can physically see me and be reminded of tasks she wants to give me. I answer all her emails pretty much immediately as is. In my head I was like "That sounds like a YOU problem and not a me working from home problem."

 

MELANIE GREEN

“Presenteeism” – as it’s called – is a hard habit to break.

 

Dr Caroline Knight is a research fellow at Curtin University’s Future of Work Institute in Perth, Australia. She’s been studying the effects of the pandemic on people's work experience – and how trust plays into that.

 

So we called her up to talk about workplace trust – starting with that hated monitoring software, and her theory that its use can be traced to a lack of confidence amongst managers.

 

DR. CAROLINE KNIGHT
We found that managers were actually reporting not being so confident themselves in managing employees remotely. And this might be because many managers were obviously forced to suddenly manage remote workers and they may not have been used to it. So in order to regain some control, it might be that managers then felt they needed to constantly check up on employees, check they're working on which tasks and whether they, those tasks are, are being completed in  a timely fashion. So, might be lacking some of that self-efficacy in being able to manage and remote employees, it might be also that they have their own leaders, um, who are asking them for their KPIs and how they're doing. So it's kind of learning from how your leaders are managing you, you might use the same styles to manage other people. So it could also be a bit of that. Like top leaders also monitoring managers and those managers then monitoring their employees.

 

MELANIE GREEN

Hm. So what role does presenteeism play?

 

DR. CAROLINE KNIGHT
I suppose when we're in the office, so presenteeism sort of refers to when people are kind of at work, but perhaps they're not being effective or that's proficient or not getting lots done. They're kind of at work, but not really engaged, I guess we would say. So we found that it was really managers' beliefs around, um, whether employees can be effective when they're working remotely, which has an impact on whether they will actually end up closely monitoring employees.

 

MELANIE GREEN

Hmm. So what impact does that have on employees then?

 

DR. CAROLINE KNIGHT

Yeah, so it can have quite a detrimental impact. I've actually got a couple of studies, which show that close monitor does cause negative wellbeing outcomes. For the first study, we looked at distress trajectories over the first three months of the pandemic. We looked at distress trajectories of employees who took our survey. So we had quite a large sample from many different countries. and we found using some latent profile analysis, which looks for natural subgroups of people. We found there's actually two types of two subgroups of people. And there was one group kind of started with a high distress, but also that distress increased over time and didn't decline. And then there was another group of people where distress was a little bit lowered start with sort of around April 2020, but then it actually decreased over time, which was super interesting.

 

And we’re obviously interested in work design and how work suddenly changed at the beginning pandemic, we were really curious to understand whether some of these work factors, um, were implicating which trajectory people were in in terms of distress. And we found that close monitoring was actually predictive of people who are in the higher distressed trajectory. So these people. Sort of distress sort of increased and stayed higher when they were being closely monitored, whereas people who were less monitored their distress decreased.

 

So we actually found that this close monitoring was really driving sort of that anxiety and depression, whereas you know, resources, which we would often expect to have positive outcomes, sort of, you know, when people have more autonomy and more support from employees and, you know, managers, they're more likely to experience things like engagement and job satisfaction.

 

MELANIE GREEN
So I mean, you spent so much time gathering data about this, but I just wanna bring it down to that human level. What does it feel like to be close monitored?

 

DR. CAROLINE KNIGHT Yeah. So what we've found, and I've actually been doing some qualitative interviews as well with people from people who are working from home during the pandemic. And they've obviously given us quite a rich set of results around that. And these people are kind of reporting how they felt kind of tethered to their desk and sort of, they felt like the managers were always on their shoulders, that they couldn't just leave their computers. They felt that they had to always be on the computer to respond to any messages that came through just because they actually were very conscious that if they weren't at their computers, they might be interpreted as them not working. Although, you know, if you'd been in office, you know, you wouldn't think twice about going to get a cup of tea or just having a chat with someone you bump into in the corridor. It felt a bit different at home because nobody could see what you're doing. So really  it implicates kind of how you feel that you're being treated by your manager, also the organization. So it can have quite a negative impact on people that might lead to a lack of motivation to actually perform well.

 

MELANIE GREEN

So what happens in a workplace when there's an erosion of trust?

 

DR. CAROLINE KNIGHT I think it creates a lack of motivation for employees. I think when employees don't feel trusted, they feel like they're not really getting their needs met at work and potentially they might be more likely to quit, which obviously creates turnover, um, and is isn't optimal for organizations when they've obviously invested in, in these employees to recruit them in the first place., if it gets so bad, people might feel very stressed and have to take time off work. So there could be a lot of negative outcomes from close monitoring in the workplace.

 

MELANIE GREEN

No kidding. Caroline, do you have a personal story or an example of a time when you were monitored closely or know of someone and how did that feel?

 

DR. CAROLINE KNIGHT
I do actually. Um, so this would be when I'd just graduated with my, um, honors degree, um, when I was in, in the UK still, um, around the sort of Durham/Newcastle area, and I was actually working in a call center at that point. And it was one of the worst experiences I've ever had actually, because we actually had to log into a system at a specific time point and every time you needed to leave, even just to go to toilet or take a tea break, you'd have to log exactly what you're doing. because I was a part of a call center, obviously taking calls and things. I had my headphones and headsets and everything. And every time I had to leave, basically I had to make a note and say why I was going. And so you did really feel very tethered to your desk. And I think that's one of the worst experiences hat I've had, because I just felt sort of imprisoned, I guess, you don't have any autonomy. What we know from work design, um, research is that people need autonomy. It's actually a fundamental, one of the, you know, fundamental needs in self-determination theories to have that people need to be able to have the freedom to, um, manage themselves and, and in the work context, to be able to, you know, perform, do their work in the way that suits them best. And then people actually perform better. /

 

MELANIE GREEN

Caroline and I also discussed the importance of empathy when it comes to team leadership. 70% of employees say that their experience of the pandemic has made it clear that empathy is a crucial quality in a leader – and having empathy as a manager goes a long way to building trust in a hybrid work environment.

 

CAROLINE KNIGHT

So I think it's really about  a manager building a good relationship with their employees and I've actually done some research, it was a metaanalysis which pulls together research from a lot of different studies and it shows that when leaders are empathic and they can build trust in their employees, these actually have a much more beneficial effect on both individual outcomes and, but also organizational outcomes.

 

MELANIE GREEN

I'd like to turn to the theme of trust more broadly, cuz I am fascinated. According to Citrix work, rebalanced report eight and 10 employees say that it's important to have an employer that they can trust, but only 49% say that they actually trust their employer. Why is trust so important to employees, especially in a hybrid context.

 

DR. CAROLINE KNIGHT

Feeling trusted really means that individuals feel valued and they feel comfortable in the organization. So I think when you feel trusted, you feel you are more likely to feel motivated. You're intrinsically motivated to do a good job for your employer because you feel that they're actually valuing you. And I think that's just a fundamental human need to feel valued. So organizations, when they sort of don't value their employees, you know,  that the employees are less likely to be committed to that organization. They're sort of more likely to leave. Trust is a huge one. It's a super, obviously, important thing to develop and because it's so hard to develop, it obviously attracts a lot of research from, you know, organizational psychologists. But we do know that from, from leaders who can actually create that trust in their employee, They do have better outcomes.

 

MELANIE GREEN

This is also very interesting. What about trust between colleagues? As well, or in addition to between managers and reports, what tips do you have about how leadership can foster trust among peers?

 

DR. CAROLINE KNIGHT
One way to foster trust among peers is actually to encourage sharing of knowledge and information. For instance, in the academic world, we very much try to share what each of us is working on simply because we all have different skills and knowledge and we can help each other. So we try and build a culture, I guess, or a climate of trust where we might have weekly seminars just so that we can actually present the work that we're working on and get some feedback from people because it's one way, if you're getting stuck with something, you can actually get some feedback from others and because people see you sharing your work and they're more like to give feedback you’re more likely to develop sort of those relations with people which are much more helpful and positive. You develop a culture of positive feedback, I guess. So I think managers can model the kind of behaviors that we should like their colleagues to adopt as well. So they can encourage say, you know, team meetings where people share, you know, what they're working on and then model that kind of behaviors are giving positive feedback and other colleagues are more like to, to then come in with thoughts of their own and fostering that kind of trust climate, I guess.

 

MELANIE GREEN
Okay. So those are the things you need to sort of create the right circumstances. I know of your research on boosting job performance at home has shown that managers who show employees support and appreciation will foster more trust. And I think that's what you're talking about. I'm curious in a hybrid work context, what does it look like for managers to show support and appreciation?

 

DR. CAROLINE KNIGHT
Okay. So I guess the mode has to change a bit, but I think it's still very possible to show support and appreciation. I think again, it would be through regular contact with employees, but not for the case of monitoring them, but just to actually check it to, to, you know, to, to kind of discuss their kind of progress and what they're doing, um, you know, on, on a normal regular basis, but then kind of providing positive feedback during that and to actually say, okay,  pointing out the things that, that person's done well, and then you can have constructive feedback. For instance, in our organization, we have lots of different teams channels. And one of those is more about recognizing, you know, what people's successes and achievements and people can post and get some feedback from people. You know, managers can encourage that and be part of that as well. So I think it's developing a wider climate and of, of this trust and sort of appreciation.

 

MELANIE GREEN

Dr. Caroline Knight is a research fellow at Curtin University’s Future of Work Institute in Perth, Australia.

 

Caroline talked about how that culture of trust has to come from the top. And she is not alone in that thinking.

 

BHUSHAN SETHI
So one of my big concerns is how do you build trust in a hybrid world? And it starts, and it ends with leadership.

 

MELANIE GREEN

Bhushan Sethi is a global leader of People and Organization at Price Waterhouse Coopers – or PWC. One of the world’s biggest accounting firms. He’s involved in the company’s New Equation initiative – and his focus is on building trust.

 

BHUSHAN SETHI 

As part of the launch of the new equation, in the US we actually launched an initiative where we said, how can we actually help the business community build trust? And one of the ways that that showed up for us is we launched a Trust Leadership Institute. Our plan is to take 10,000 leaders, executive leaders, emerging leaders from all different industries, through an immersive learning program where they'll really learn. How does trust show up? How does trust show up when I'm engaging different stakeholders? How does it show up when I'm managing my workforce? How do I build trust? // So it's really embedding trust in all aspects of business.

 

MELANIE GREEN

Bhushan has worked with THOUSANDS of leaders. And he says there’s a huge thirst for leadership development in this new hybrid context.

 

BUSHAN SETHI
There's a real risk with hybrid work, that it actually leads to less trust in organizations. And it's really important for firms to actually acknowledge that, to understand that it's human nature for us to build relationships and affirmation. Towards people who are close to us. It's important to understand that the five minutes before and after the meeting is a really important time to build social connection and relationships and build trust.

So what we are not saying is that that shouldn't happen. What we are saying is leaders have to be really deliberate. They have to understand that how they engage remote teams, how they engage people who are not in the meeting, how they make sure that, um, people aren't getting. Progressed or better opportunities or better quality feedback, just because they're in the office, that that really needs to take place.

 

So the hybrid environment is here to stay. It's the way workers want to work. By and large many organizations that have successfully, um, worked remote will be some form of hybrid. And again, that will be different. It'll play out in different industries in different ways.

 

MELANIE GREEN

Trust has always been an important value in the business world – but now it’s more important than ever. 

 

BHUSHAN SETHI

Trust has always been on the business agenda. During COVID it just got heightened. Um, every organization needs to think about customer safety. Every organization needs to think about the employee safety. There needs to be thinking about mental health and wellbeing. As we enter some economic headwinds, they need to be thinking about how do we responsibly grow our businesses?

 

MELANIE GREEN

And it starts with how leaders manage their teams. Earlier, Caroline mentioned that many hybrid work environments run into trouble in this area because leaders are insecure. So a successful hybrid environment also requires resources and training for leaders.

 

BHUSHAN SETHI

As we worked with an organization that was looking to build a new hybrid leadership model, one of the most important pieces of that was really understanding that different leaders were at different places. Some were uncomfortable with the context of a personalized leadership approach to meet different people's needs. Some were struggling with what does inclusive leadership actually mean?

 

Some had different interpretations of trust, in terms of did it mean that we have to be super vulnerable? The reason why it actually worked is we actually started talking about what are the leadership behaviors you need?

 

You need to be really focused on redesigning work so we can make sure//we can differentiate between the work that needs to be done together. So synchronous work versus asynchronous work and you can actually give people more flexibility.

 

MELANIE GREEN
And leading in a hybrid environment requires a special set of skills that don’t necessarily come naturally to everyone.

 

BHUSHAN SETHI
The words inclusive leadership are on the lips of many, many executives. Now that doesn't mean that we all know how to be inclusive leaders. And if you lead in a, if you have made a commitment to hybrid work, you have to lead differently. You have to be incredibly deliberate about including everyone. In major decisions in major meetings, you have to be very deliberate to make sure that you don't fall to the risk of proximity bias, where you're giving progression and opportunities and development and building, um, social relationships with only those people that are in your physical presence. And you gotta make sure that you don't have inequity. The last thing we need as a society is greater divides. In the workforce and there's a real risk. If hybrid work gets implemented incorrectly that we'll get more inequity, we'll have more people who have diverse backgrounds or caregivers who don't come into the office as often that they get left behind.


MELANIE GREEN
So hybrid work really needs to be handled with care to remain equitable.

BHUSHAN SETHI
Now in what's really interesting now with workforce is. There is a new social contract. There is a new way of engaging between employers and employees and leaders can absolutely make or break trust through their daily interactions with their people. The way they give and receive feedback, the way they make accommodations for people’s schedules who don't feel comfortable coming back to the office.

One way trust really shows up is when we think about our return to office or hybrid work plans. And leaders need a new need, a new map. They need a new model for how to lead in this environment. It needs to be much more inclusive. Leaders have to demonstrate empathy to their people. They need to take care of people's wellbeing.

MELANIE GREEN
Empathy – which enables that crucial inclusivity – is key.

BHUSHAN SETHI
But for hybrid work to work, we have to lead in a different way. We have to lead with inclusive behaviors and we have to lead in a way that that builds trust. Trust that all voices are recognized. Trust that my progression will not be impeded because I am not showing up to every social event, and I am not in the office five days a week, and I am not close to the executive corridor. And then we need to make sure that we have governance in place to say our underrepresented minorities, our diverse communities who may not come into the office as much as others are not being impacted by this and that we are not going to reneg on our very public commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion.

MELANIE GREEN
There’s no question that trust and empathy have always been important factors in any type of workplace.

 

But in a hybrid model, these values need to be front and center. Employees need to feel valued and trusted. And employers need to understand why giving their employees autonomy and treating them with kindness and respect will lead to a better workplace.

 

Thanks for listening to Remote Works – an original podcast from Citrix. I’m Melanie Green.

 

If you want to know more about what employers and employees are saying about hybrid work, you can check out the Work Rebalanced Report, published by Citrix.

 

Visit more dot citrix dot com slash hybrid work report to learn more.

 

Next time on our journey through the world of hybrid work – are the tech tools you use helping or hindering your work life?