Trust, Transparency, and Mutiny in the Workplace

April 27, 2023
Subscribe to Our Newsletter     

Employees in the UK are sending a signal to their leaders that enough is enough. From nurses to paramedics, midwives to junior doctors, university staff, teachers, passport office staff, civil servants, rail workers, postal workers, and bus drivers—people feel overworked, underpaid, and tasked with managing their own stress. Some of those workers we most valued and cherished during the pandemic are feeling burnt out. Given the events of the last six months, business leaders must take note of the change in the social contract between them and their employees if they are to build back better.

What happened to “it’s okay not to be okay”, and to the compassionate leadership we saw emerge from the pandemic? Under pressure, it appears that leaders are unlearning some of the lessons of the last two years, but employees aren’t prepared to go back. Mutiny within organizations is good for no one, but there’s no doubt there has been a shift in demands from employees (and it’s not all around pay) who are demanding more transparency and trustworthiness from their senior teams.

Senior Teams Are Critical for Healthy Cultures

Given the trust placed in business leaders, CEOs and their senior teams are well-placed to nurture and build trust to the benefit of all. Edelman’s 2023 Trust Barometer highlights that CEOs are navigating a polarized world and are being called to step up where other institutions have failed.

Edelman’s research also found that businesses are seen as a unifying force—one more trusted than government, the media, or NGOs. We know from our work that trust and transparency go hand in hand and that it’s possible to build it within the senior team and cascade it throughout the organization so it becomes imbued in organizational culture.

What Do Employees Want?

Our research at RHR International shows a growing demand for transparency, trust, and alignment around shared values following the pandemic. Employees are increasingly interested in what the company is doing and why and are asking questions such as, “Who are we in service of?”, “How does what we do affect others and the planet?” “Do they care about me?” And at a more basic level: “What’s the plan around hybrid work and returning to the office?”

Meeting employee demands around trust and transparency is a win-win for everyone. In a recent study using RHR International’s data, we found that organizations with high-purpose executive teams demonstrated considerably higher employee engagement, product development, organizational performance, quality of services, and profitability.

So, what can senior team members do to build more trust? 

  1. Do some work on your own purpose statement with a “why” statement that includes impact and contribution. Encourage your team members to do the same. 
  2. Conduct a purpose session with your team around the framework of “old story, new story.” Then, align the team around the new story.
  3. Be mindful that the words fit the music, and be intentional about how you show up.
  4. Practice transparency—it’s expected.
  5. Create opportunities for collaboration and connection so people can feel they have a home.
  6. Pay attention to the wider ecosystem.
  7. Be patient with yourself and others.
  8. Create an environment that encourages a growth mindset—learning and feedback.

The Rise of the Employee

Employees are showing that they cannot unsee what they learned during the pandemic. Trust and transparency matter, and it starts with the senior team. What the senior team focuses on, rewards, stands for, and how members engage with one another are all used by employees to understand whether they are safe, whether they will be successful, whether they can trust the team, and whether they matter. 

Orla Leonard is a senior partner in RHR International’s London office and the head of the Team Effectiveness practice. She is known as an energetic, creative, and solutions-focused leader as well as a highly effective executive coach.