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In Times of Uncertainty, Communication and Trust are Critical

Vanessa Eaton

Grayscale image of woman climbing concrete stairs surrounded by concrete block walls

COVID-19 is a defining challenge for CEOs and senior leaders across Canada. All organizations are doing their best, managing under conditions of extreme uncertainty and rapid change. Our actions in these unprecedented times can build or break trust.

Like many organizations, we too are rallying to prepare for the unknown still ahead. With the realization that this is a marathon, not a sprint we are trying to pace ourselves and scenario plan for the short and long-term.  We don’t pretend to have all the answers, but we are communicating often with our employees. Every day I see examples of how our public relations professionals are supporting each other and working together to serve our clients under these extreme circumstances. Our government relations specialists are keeping the lines open and helping interpret daily events.  Beyond working with incredible people, what drives us is a tone set from the top. We are fortunate to have a CEO who sets the right example by focusing first on the health and wellbeing of our employees as the priority in our operating decisions.

In January of this year, we conducted our annual Canadian trust study, CanTrust Index, now in its fifth year. This year, in addition to surveying a broad range of Canadians, we studied employees exclusively to gain a Canadian benchmark of their level of trust related to their workplaces and employers.

While there are bright spots in our studies, it is clear where improvement is needed.  One important area of concern, especially now, is low trust in our leaders.  Trust in CEOs as one example has fallen to 28% this year from 55% only two years ago.  CEO trust levels are weakest with younger and lower paid employees.

Trust is based on the evaluation of a leader’s or organization’s perceived competence and effectiveness and whether they will “do the right thing.” Trust is so highly valued that 65% of Canadian employees say that trusting their employer is just as important to them as the amount they are being paid.

On that note, here are some trust-building approaches we’re practicing and recommending to our clients as we navigate these difficult times.

The evidence is clear, teams with a higher degree of trust in their leadership are more agile and better able to navigate uncertainty. In the difficult days and months ahead, trust building should be a deliberate part of management and recovery plans.