In any group situation, if you ask for a past-employment horror story, I’d bet that most people in the room would be throwing their hands up to regale you with tales of crappy workplaces or incompetent managers. Of course, some of that is subjective, but most of what we hear in these situations isn’t surprising or unfamiliar. For those with more than a couple of jobs under their belt, negative professional experiences are a right of passage.
Workplace dissatisfaction isn’t uncommon in Australia – the 2017 Gallup ‘State of the Global Workplace’ report showed that only 14% of Australian and New Zealenders are actively engaged in our jobs. The same report showed that 80% of managers are actively disengaged from their jobs, which makes the previous figure even more understandable. I am a firm believer that workplace culture comes from the top, so what hope do we have in creating a positive environment if our leaders are also gritting their teeth to get through the day? But this isn’t about the countless bad workplaces out there [there are far more insightful and better researched pieces out there if going down the depressing rabbit hole of negative workplace culture is your thing].
For the many of us who are engaged leaders, and who are focused on building positive workplace cultures, we are not only tasked with creating fulfilling professional futures for our staff, but also with reshaping their expectations of management in general. It’s all well and good to have created a utopian working environment [we haven’t, btw, and not entirely sure it exists, but for argument’s sake…] but it will be short-lived if your staff are still operating from a place of mistrust and insecurity, thanks to their previous workplace’s toxicity.
So, how can you help your team recover from bad management? Build [and keep] their trust. This may sound obvious, but having a team that trusts their management is the most important element of a positive workplace culture. It’s not just about building the trust though. What’s that quote? Trust takes years to build and seconds to destroy? Here are my top tips for building, and keeping, the trust of your team.
If you’ve followed us for more than about 35 seconds, you will know that this is a big one for us as a company. The fact that we are open about the ups and downs of business, our expectations of our team, what career progression looks like and what our values are [as individuals and as a company], hopefully means that our staff know that we would never mislead them.
Trust goes both ways.
This sounds pretty obvious, but it’s shocking to know how many management teams get this wrong. I don’t think many individuals actually think that micromanaging works, yet so many companies have little to no trust in their employees to work independently. Offering flexible working options and focusing on work produced rather than hours logged are such simple ways of treating your team like the professional adults that they are. While I would say that we have always been fairly flexible as a company, this has only increased during lockdown. You know what else has increased? Productivity. It is a cynical thought to believe that without the beady eyes of management tracing their every move, your employees are going to spend their working days on the couch watching Netflix. Trust that your team wants to do their best, and they probably will.
Keep your word.
Common feedback from my team about negative experiences in past workplaces has been around management making promises that they were never intending to keep. Sure, plans change in business all the time, and I am not suggesting that you are beholden to the every want, need and whim of your staff. What I am talking about is keeping your word when it comes to career development, training opportunities you promised during the interview, job descriptions and general expectations. Nothing breaks trust faster in a team than them realising that their leaders are full of BS.
Create a culture of accountability.
The ideas of holding people accountable and building trust aren’t always seen as synonymous, but they should be. A large part of making your team feel safe is about supporting them through victories and mistakes alike. If we create an environment where we have reasonable and fair expectations around human error, then our employees will feel safe to come to us when things go wrong. Showing your team that you have their backs on bad days as well as good will strengthen their trust in you, and in my experience, that will make them even more determined to do their best work.
Clear is kind.
This goes for instructions and feedback alike. While you may feel that skirting the issue is a more compassionate approach [especially when dealing with people who have come from toxic workplaces and are a little skittish], I am here to tell you that it’s really not. If your team knows that you will always provide honest, timely and reasonable feedback, then they have nothing to fear from you. This is the most important point when it comes to creating a culture of trust, in my opinion. While avoiding giving negative feedback and just redoing the work yourself might feel like the nice thing to do, all this does is tell your employee that they can’t believe anything you say – good or bad. Nobody loves being the bad guy [well maybe like actual bad guys do], but if you can deliver feedback in a timely, appropriate and honest way, then your team may not always like you, but they’ll probably trust you.
What do you think? I’d love to hear from you about what I’ve missed, or what you really need/needed to recover from a tough working environment. Let me know in the comments below!