How the Pandemic Unlocked a Trust Dividend Across the Workforce

During the COVID-19 pandemic, something strange and unexpected happened in the corporate world: organizations rediscovered the value of humanity amid the global disruption

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The pandemic offered many of us our first glimpse inside our manager’s home and whether we marvelled at the decor or smiled at the children playing in the background, for many of us the experience helped humanize our leaders. That personal connection has had unexpected benefits in terms of leadership trust and overall organizational resilience. Over the course of the pandemic, there was a significant rise in leadership trust amongst employees, with effective leaders demonstrating empathy towards their colleagues and focusing less on rigorous structure than pre-pandemic.

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, something strange and unexpected happened in the corporate world: organizations rediscovered the value of humanity amid the global disruption. The hierarchical barriers between “them” and “us” were replaced by a sense of “we are all in this together”, creating a culture of care that simply had not existed in many organizations before the pandemic. The trials of global lockdowns and the severe strains on business operations saw many leaders distinguish themselves in the eyes of their workforce, acting decisively and earning the trust of their employees. The biggest changes were caused by the enforced shift to working from home. Previously, some organizations had simply not trusted their employees to work from home, fearing that they would abuse the freedom and not deliver the work. However over 2020, vast swathes of the working population went from working in an office one day to working in their kitchen the next and productivity went up, not down. Organizations that had long referred to colleagues as ‘human capital’ or ‘assets’ that fulfilled a specific role, were able to turn to their people and ask them to help create agile and innovative responses to the disruption.

Looking after people in these unprecedented times was of course the right and socially responsible thing to do. Those who were most successful at doing so were leaders that set aside hierarchy and displayed empathy towards their colleagues. According to BSI research, organizations that focused on ‘people factors’ such as culture, community and alignment all saw performance improvements over the course of the pandemic. They are now emerging as more resilient organizations overall. 33 per cent of business leaders globally now believe that their organizations are fully resilient, up from the 28 per cent recorded pre-pandemic.

As firms navigate the way forward in a post-pandemic era, it will be increasingly important for them to have a collaborative, communicative, and emotionally intelligent leadership that encourages diverse, inclusive, and ethical workplace relationships based on respect and fairness. Only by doing this can we perpetuate a true culture of trust and unlock individual potential while building resilient organizations.

There is a risk, of course, that as we shift from stabilizing to rebuilding, leaders may once again lose this newfound workforce trust. Successful leaders, whether they are returning to the workplace full-time or adopting a hybrid model, need to adapt their leadership styles and maintain the visibility and engagement they delivered during the lockdown while working from home. Although there is still a lot of work to be done to reduce the impact of the pandemic on a global scale, one thing we must work hard to internalize are the memories of the actions we took in the first few months that united us and our colleagues against adversity.

Mastering organizational resilience comes down to adopting best practices that deliver consistent business improvement by building competence and capability across all parts of an organization. Covid-19 helped break the institutional barriers to a new, more people-focused approach – creating a new culture of care based on trust. Now, as we look forward, the organizations who embed this trust in their organizational culture will not only survive, but also undoubtedly thrive.