New data says globally more people trust their employers more than the government (the research surveyed many major countries, but not Australia). Is it the same here? And what should employers be doing?
Recently a friend of mine found out her partner’s workplace had a confirmed case of coronavirus. At the time information about the situation was even more scarce than it is now. All they knew was the diagnosed individual was being treated and those who had close contact with them had been told to self-isolate for fourteen days.
Any employees who developed symptoms in the meantime were advised to seek medical attention. The company’s office underwent a deep clean and my friend’s partner was informed it was business-as-usual less than 48 hours later.
Viruses have a domino effect, or perhaps it’s more like a ripple. One person gets infected and everyone around them needs to reevaluate their health, and then everyone around them needs to reevaluate theirs and so on.
In the case above, it wasn’t just one workplace affected by this, my friend’s organisation needed to decide what to do with her. Was she a risk? It had no handbook to deal with this. It was decided her office would follow the lead of the other company. My friend was told to pass on the advice her partner received and if he wasn’t required to quarantine, then neither was she.
That’s one business placing the health of its workforce in the hands of another business of which they have next to zero knowledge – they aren’t even in the same industry. It’s a tough decision. Was it the right one?
On one view, it seems very risky. From another perspective, there is something hopeful about that level of inter-organisational trust. But the real question is, how much choice did they have?
Trust the facts
Recent data out of the US shows employees are looking to employers to update them about COVID-19. The Edelman Trust Barometer looks at trust levels on a global scale. Recently they released a special report that looked at Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Africa, South Korea, the U.K. and the U.S during the current pandemic. Sixty-three per cent of respondents said they wanted daily updates from their employer. Most importantly, “my employer” rated higher than governments and traditional media outlets as a place to find trusted information.
Trust in business, particularly employers, has been a rising trend. In the 2019 Trust Barometer “my employer” ranked roughly 25 per cent higher than the media and in 2018 traditional media bottomed out as the least trusted institution.
In the current COVID-19 pandemic the rapidly changing circumstances have left many completely unsure of what to do. The overwhelming message we are receiving from politicians and experts alike is that we are dealing with a lot of uncertainty. It is called the 2019 novel coronavirus for a reason.
Finding a guide
The COVID-19 pandemic puts us in a strange place when it comes to trust. The Department of Health and all manner of public health experts have said quarantine, event cancellations and social distancing are some of the best ways to slow down the spread of the virus (also called “flattening the curve”) but no one is naive enough to argue large scale shutdown doesn’t in and of itself cause harm.
Every business wants to stay open, and they’re also aware they have to do so responsibly. But beyond “wash your hands”, “stay home if you’re sick” and “for the love of God don’t touch your face” there is widespread confusion on best practice.
So it makes sense that leaders in private sector organisations are looking at each other, and the public is looking at all of them. Some of the top stories around COVID-19 have been the response from CEOs. American news outlets are awash with reports of Silicon Valley executives’ current actions and the Australian media is talking to private sector luminaries. Take for example Leigh Sales interviewing the CEO of Telstra on the 7.30 Report about the impact COVID-19 will have on our communications systems.
In the Edelman study, the vast majority of respondents felt their employer was better prepared for the virus than their country. Seventy-eight per cent said they expect business to act to protect “employees and the local community”.
That’s a lot of pressure
The report suggests there is room here for governments and business to team up. There was twice as much trust in a business/government partnership than each alone. People are reassured to know that Australian supermarket executives have been meeting with the federal government.
While we don’t have the statistics on the level to which Australians trust their employers right now, it’s safe to assume they want strong leadership. The best thing every organisation can do right now is communicate clearly and communicate often. Employees want to know if colleagues have contracted the virus, what they can do to stop the spread, and how the organisation is navigating the economic instability.
In the story above, my friend’s partner was informed of the situation on the messaging platform Slack by his colleagues. It turns out he wasn’t on HR’s mailing list, so if those secondary communication methods weren’t there he could’ve missed the alert entirely.
The Edelman report’s advice is to keep those lines of communication open, make sure everyone is on the same page and receiving the information you’re putting out and, most importantly, make sure it’s correct.
How do you think trust is impacting this crisis? How much information should you be giving staff? We’d like to hear how HR is managing this situation in their organisations.
AHRI wants you to feel equipped to deal with the current COVID-19 pandemic. Visit the Coronavius Guidance page to find out more.