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Creating Great Workplaces

Lauren Krause

The Difference Between Trust and Engagement

How does the Great Place to Work® Trust Model differ from employee engagement? Occupational Psychologists Dr. Lauren Krause and Timmy Cheung explain.

There has never been a more important time to have an engaged workforce. Engaged employees are more likely to expend discretionary effort to go the extra mile, with this enthusiasm creating a better and more valuable customer and client experience.

During a time of economic crisis the importance of getting the most from your employees and ensuring customers stay loyal could mean the difference between survival or not. One key way for organizations to improve engagement is to create and maintain a workplace culture based on trust.

‘Join an organization, leave a manager…’

As Dr Lauren Krause, Organizational Psychologist and Client Services Manager at the Great Place to Work® Institute UK, explains: ‘It is often said you join an organization, but leave a manager. We can love the vision or the mission of what an organization is trying to do, but with the day to day reality, if your manager is not supporting you or giving you recognition, it is inevitably going to affect your feelings of trust and engagement.’

Moreover, in a tough economic climate, where opportunities and vacancies are hard to come by, a disengaged employee may stay with an organization and breed negativity. And if trust and engagement is low when the economy improves, there is a risk that the best talent will leave.

Because employee engagement has become so important to employers, measuring and working to improve it has become something of an ‘industry’ in recent years, with a myriad of consultancies offering different models and approaches.

Trust is a prerequisite to employee engagement

The MacLeod Review of employee engagement in 2009 found more than 50 definitions of the concept. This means there is no universal understanding or definition of employee engagement. Rather than focusing on something that is rather difficult to define, Great Place to Work looks at something different – trust. It has also developed a robust way of measuring that trust, validated by 25 years of research with organizations and business leaders all over the world.

An article published by Macey and Schneider shows that trust is a prerequisite to engagement. This evidence supports the Great Place to Work aim to identify, create and sustain great workplaces through development of high-trust workplaces.

The Great Place to Work Trust Model has five dimensions; the first three focus on building trust between the employee and the organization and/or manager, and comprises credibility, respect and fairness. The fourth – camaraderie – measures the strengths of employees’ relationships with their colleagues. The fifth – pride – measures how much employees intrinsically take from their role.

‘The trust element in the model is unique,’ says Timmy Cheung, Organizational Psychologist and Project Manager at the Great Place to Work® Institute UK. ‘There are a lot of competitors who have engagement as part of their survey, but that does not necessarily help organizations build a high trust environment,’ he says. Cheung explains further that since the model was created from data collected from a variety of focus groups and interviews with companies that were already great, the result is that Great Place to Work is able to measure the perceptions of employees within the organization and use the model to see how trusting the employees are of their workplace. ‘However, the people practices that underpin the culture are also important to take into account, and these are audited by the Institute too,’ he adds.

Cathal Divilly, Managing Director of the Great Place to Work® Institute Ireland, suggests managers and leaders need to show four key traits to determine whether employees are going to trust them: ability or technical competence; benevolence (you will look after their interests); integrity; and predictability (you behave consistently).

Pete Nicholls, external HR consultant and founder of Veritas Network, says that organizations that score well on its trust-based index in the top 100 tend to see about a 40% difference in their cumulative returns, indicating the distinct financial and competitive advantages of getting this right.

Business benefits of Trust…

Trust is a crucial precursor to positive employee engagement.  Organizations that understand the importance of employee engagement have been shown to enjoy the following benefits:

■ 16% greater profit margin

■ 19% greater operating income

■ 18% greater productivity

■ 2.6 times Earnings Per Share (EPS) growth

■ 12% greater customer loyalty

■ 50% fewer sick days

■ 87% less likely to leave the organization

Read more on the 2012 Best Small & Medium Workplaces and the unique people practices they put in place to create high-trust environments.

Dr. Lauren Krause is Head of Client Services and Timmy Cheung is Project Manager at Great Place to Work® Institute UK. Both are Occupational Psychologists.


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