Trust isn’t something organizations can build, but rather something they must earn, according to Dr. Rumeet Billan, president and chief executive officer at Viewpoint Leadership Inc.
“We actually can’t build trust, because building trust assumes that we are in control of who will trust us and how much trust they’re going to give us — and that is not the case,” she said during a Benefits Canada webinar at the end of September about redefining resilience and the science of trust. “All we control is who we choose to trust and how much trust we give to that person.”
Trust, social connectivity and well-being are intertwined, she said, noting trust is also essential for resilience, including self-trust and trust in employers to show up for people when they’re struggling.
Critically for employers, trust is associated with positive organizational outcomes. Dr. Billan cited research by American neuroeconomist Paul Zak that compared employees at low-trust companies to employees at high-trust companies. Those at high-trust companies reported 13 per cent fewer sick days, 40 per cent less burnout, 50 per cent higher productivity, 76 per cent more engagement and 106 per cent more energy at work.
However, she noted, “trust is in a state of crisis, because we’ve gone through a lot in the last year and a half.” Furthermore, she said, earning trust as society moves forward from the challenges of the pandemic will be an incremental process.
“We earn [trust] through small, consistent actions over time . . . and we are continuously earning it because trust is something that’s given to us,” said Dr. Billan. “You can tell me all you want what the values of the organization are, what you’re not going to do again or what you are going to do. But it’s [earned] through experience [and] through moments of social connectedness. What that requires is the currency of interaction — and at the heart of that is vulnerability.”
To earn trust, it’s critical to catch someone’s vulnerability, which can be done simply by acknowledging it with a phrase like, “Thank you for sharing.” That, in turn, helps to create a vulnerability loop that lasts only a few seconds, but exists everywhere in high-trust cultures, said Dr. Billan.
Also speaking during the webinar, Sunil Hirjee, vice-president for Ontario, Western and Atlantic Canada, group insurance, sales and partner experience at SSQ Life Insurance Co. Inc., shared a moment of vulnerability. He told participants he’d lost his father to the coronavirus in April 2020 and then explained how his employer — which he’d only joined in January of that year — provided support that focused more on what he needed in that moment than on a specific number of days off.
Through the early days of the pandemic, SSQ took an accommodating approach with all of its employees, acknowledging that everyone experienced the switch to remote working differently. In particular, the organization provided mental-health resources across its benefits platforms and trained managers to trust staff to get tasks done rather than managing their schedules.
“Having this experience with our employees made it easier for us to help execute it as well for the partners that we work with,” said Hirjee. “Their realities and their impacts from this pandemic have [also] been unique . . . . What we really tried to do was make sure we were addressing their needs as soon as we could.”
Thanks to its efforts, SSQ has been experiencing lower absenteeism rates (down 25 per cent in 2020 compared to 2019), reduced costs related to poor health, increased productivity, an enhanced corporate reputation and easier attraction and retention of qualified employees.
Hirjee attributes a big part of this to the health culture that was already in place pre-pandemic. “It’s led us to have that community-based culture, which is great when we’re talking about fostering trust and making sure we’re supporting resilience within our organization.”