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Mastering the foundations of trust

Great Place to Work partner Cathal Divilly on the importance of building trust

Cathal Divilly

Cathal Divilly: "Line management with a strong people focus is vital."


2019 saw us receive more than 60,000 responses to the Great Place to Work survey across all sectors and industries. We worked with a range of cultures, from low-trust cultures using the model to improve their people experience to high-trust cultures using the model as a framework to help sustain their trust levels.

When we started the business we had a core belief that any company no matter their size and industry could build a Great Place to Work. This year, the eclectic mix of organisations across our three size lists reinforces that original belief. Once a positive mindset is in place among leaders and they demonstrate an ability to take constructive feedback from their employees, great improvements to the culture are possible .

Building strong foundations will help build trust levels. Contrary to what we hear on social media in terms of the importance of free food and unlimited holidays to attract and retain talent, we have seen through our work that the solution to the ongoing attraction and retention conundrum is perhaps easier than we thought. Leadership valuing the basics and delivering on the foundations is what will actually have the biggest impact on the quality of an employee’s experience in work.

The quality of communication and involvement is highly correlated with people’s trust levels. Do I feel involved in decisions that affect me? Am I being informed about important issues and changes? Leaders explaining the context behind decisions that are made and ensuring there is a flow of communication throughout their organisation is critical.

Another important foundation area is creating meaning for an employee within their role, and connecting the work they do with impact is important. No matter what the job role, or task being carried out, great leaders create meaning and purpose for their teams.

Line management with a strong people focus is vital. People must believe that their direct leaders are not only competent at doing the job, but they must feel a sense of benevolence from their leaders. They must feel that the leader cares about them as people not just an employee. This trust in leadership starts at the top and must be demonstrated by leaders towards the team that report into them and, so on down through the organisation.

Innovation and beyond

Mastering the foundations of trust can pave the way for innovative practices. Once the foundation areas are valued, they can then be prioritised. At that point it makes sense for organisations to look towards some of these practices to attract and retain their people.

Trust is the basis for an authentic employer brand. The challenge of talent attraction is driving more clarity on the part of companies on who the company is as an employer (their employer brand) and also greater clarity on what their unique offering is to the talent market (their employee value proposition). The clearer the company is on who they are and what they offer, defining what makes their culture unique, the easier they will find it to compete for talent.

Trust will allow for a better work-life balance

High-trust organisations can challenge their approach to work schedules in innovative ways.

The idea of the traditional 9-5 working hours continues to lose its foothold across organisations in Ireland. Flexible working arrangements are becoming more commonplace, with an emphasis on promoting a better work-life balance for employees.

Flexible working options have been in place for some time, but organisations are getting more creative in what is being offered. Four-day work weeks have been in the news over the last year, and we are starting to see organisations in Ireland offer these arrangements to staff. While insights into the outcome of these initiatives is limited at present, the data available gives reason to be optimistic. In an age where people are always connected, emails are perpetually flooding inboxes and new projects are around every corner, it is no surprise to see employees are seeking a better work-life balance.

Trust can unleash the potential of support networks

Last year, governmental policy changes resulted in additional entitlements for new parents, and while these were welcomed, many organisations are going above and beyond what they are obliged to provide. Companies of all sizes are taking a more invested approach to supporting their employees as they start or continue to grow their families. For example, companies devise programmes that provide social support networks for expecting mothers, where a staff member who has experience working and balancing parenthood is assigned to support first-time mothers with advice. This sentiment is also present when mothers are returning to work.

Additionally, the general attitude and level of understanding of mental health issues has seen remarkable progress over the last decade, and this cultural shift continues to manifest itself in the working world. Mental health first aider training, mental health ambassadors and an emphasis on psychological wellbeing in wellness programmes have increased this year, with it now being commonplace to see at least one of these initiatives in place in any given organisation. With Ireland having one of the highest rates of mental health issues across Europe, it is promising to see employers taking an active role in prevention, awareness and support.

Congratulations to all the companies listed or on the journey who are working on improving their people experience. We look forward to connecting and supporting you throughout 2020.

Thank you to all the wonderful team at the Great Place to Work Institute.