Now more than ever, the relationships between employers and employees are in the spotlight. Employees want to feel trusted and valued by their employers, and to feel empowered to do their best work, day-in, day-out. Those that aren’t often find that their overall well-being suffers, causing them ill effects both inside and outside their working lives.
In each podcast, a business leader shares their experiences of flexible work, as well as their views on the wider employee and work landscape, both present and future. The interviewee for this first podcast is Shalene Gupta, a corporate adviser and researcher, and formerly a financial specialist in the U.S. Department of the Treasury gives us her insights into trust, flexibility & optimism:
Trust in a global world
Shalene makes the point that trust is an issue in the wider world, and not just within businesses. She believes that both organizations and individual people have a responsibility to trust each other, in order to solve the problems we all collectively face, such as climate change: “These are huge problems that no individual can solve and no one organization can solve, either. But in order to work together to solve these problems, we do have to trust each other. And as employees, when we sign up for a job, we trust that our bosses will take care of us, and that the company will pay us for the work we do, and not terminate us without good reason.”
Four elements of trust
Shalene believes there are four main elements of trust: confidence in a company’s ability to deliver its product or service; motives, in terms of whose interest they are operating in; priorities, in whether they put people or profit first; and impact, including how the business affects individual employees or wider society. She goes on to say all these factors are taken into account by employees: “As individuals, we do a sort of complex calculus of weighing all these different factors and considering what we find the most important when we decide to interact with a company, whether it’s as a customer and a consumer or as an employee or investor.”
Learning how to say sorry
Open, honest communication is vital to ensuring good relationships between employers and employees. Shalene draws on the example of how a company responds to a mistake or a dispute, and whether they apologize for their failure, to demonstrate how it can build trust. “We seem to have this corporate attitude of ‘all right, there’s been a problem – we’re not going to apologize, we’re just going to bury it’,” she says. “A lot of that comes from people fearing that they’ll be held liable because it’s tantamount to admitting guilt. But actually, studies have shown that if you apologize, it mitigates lawsuits and that’s actually what people want.”
Understanding employee needs
Shalene has several years’ experience working flexibly, but was able to experience first-hand how others struggled to adapt during the pandemic. In particular, she remarked on how different people’s best times for productivity can vary substantially. “I really start to get into my groove between 3pm and 4pm, and my best hours are at about 7pm to 9pm if you want anything really good and creative out of me,” she explains. “It’s really nice that I’m in a workplace where I can do that and my boss understands that. If we listen to our bodies and ourselves, maybe we could be more productive on a different schedule.”
Keeping hold of talent
In the early part of her career, Shalene changed course because she felt that a company culture heavily focused on morning meetings was stifling her creativity. She feels the same could be an issue now, where people who feel they don’t have the flexibility to do their best work will find a new employer where they can get that flexibility. She says: “I just wondered how many other people are out there like this who have valuable things to say and contribute and who want to work hard – but there’s simply something in the way that the office space is structured and the office day that makes it difficult.”
Listen to the full episode with Shalene on Spotify or iOS; hear more on how employers’ efforts to prioritize employee well-being could be here to stay, and how building employee trust can have the knock-on effect of building customer trust.