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Are We Forgetting the Lifeblood of Human Organisations? Trust

4 minute read

By Sarah McLellan

In organisations around the world, people and companies are locked in battle. Having pulled together to work against the threat throughout Covid, employers and employees are now pulling in different directions. The sense of purpose and alignment we developed in the face of adversity has been replaced with a feeling of us and them. Some might even go so far as to say we have started to regress to an era we thought was moving into the rear-view mirror, of command and control.

Communication from leaders has shifted to re-setting expectations. Time spent in the office is being tracked and managers are being asked to follow up with those continuing to ignore the pleas that collaboration and impact are simply better when we’re in person. Companies are feeling the pressure of tougher economic conditions and are reverting to micro-management, monitoring activity levels, and challenging individuals appearing to fall below the bar. Management by numbers has extended to sudden and even inhumane decisions to lay off staff with little to no notice, with decisions often communicated in distant and uncaring ways – via email or delivered by strangers.

Of course, employees are feeling it too. Economic uncertainty and the rising cost of living have left many facing untenable costs for travelling to work and funding childcare. Employers pushing people to deliver more, to meet new expectations, and the decrease in available roles to move to, have once again shaped decisions to throttle-back, to operate in a work to rule capacity. The priority is to maintain a job to support livelihoods, less a career to stimulate personal growth. 

Quietly, a battle is raging, with neither side seemingly willing to give.

At the core, perceptions of positive work cultures are misaligned between leaders and individuals. Gallup research reported that leaders are twice as likely to feel connected to the company's culture than individuals. And leaders are twice as likely as individuals to feel that remote work will make the culture worse. Difference in perception also extends to trust itself, as a PwC report revealed that leaders believe employees trust them significantly more than they do in reality.  

If this chasm continues for the longer term, everyone loses. Lurching about, creating tension, is exceptionally costly. Hiring and firing simultaneously might serve to manipulate financial performance on a balance sheet in the short term, but in the long term, the cost to replace and re-train people will come back to bite. For individuals, decisions to coast or quiet-quit could mean opportunities to develop key skills and advance careers are lost. These moments of acceleration can be difficult to re-capture, and the loss in skill development ultimately damaging for both people and businesses.


To make progress, we need to focus on re-building relationships with trust and understanding. The pace of change, complexity and ambiguity is not waning. Technology and AI capabilities are marching on, but our ability to capitalise on the opportunity to make real progress in productivity, innovation and in contributing to the world in a meaningful and impactful way, is curtailed by our inability to connect and co-create a path forward, together.

Here are three actions we can take to enable trust to flow throughout teams and organisations, re-igniting human potential and possibility in our workplaces:

  1. Focus on making people feel safe and secure.  No one ever works hard or feels engaged when feelings of uncertainty, anxiety and fear flood our brains. At the foundation, we need to nurture cultures where people and teams feel psychologically safe, valued, and included.
  2. Open up the channels of communication. Issuing commands and demands will only serve to further entrench each side. We need to resist the urge to command and control, instead, creating space for dialogue and building shared goals and understanding. 
  3. Empower managers to build connection with individuals. Managers who are motivated through understanding and enabling others can genuinely bring work to life, sparking meaning, inspiring collaboration and ideas, and lighting up networks of trust across the organisation

Creating conditions for people to feel trusted is our unique human gift. In today’s turbulent world, this is the guide rope we need to create positive, sustainable experiences of work and business results.


Sarah is a work psychologist, strategic partner and business leader with 20 years of experience using people science to build happier, healthier more human workplaces. Sarah leads Make it Human, a consulting company partnering with organisations to cultivate cultures where people and businesses thrive. Her book, 'Make it Human', captures this vision and includes models and stories to enable practical steps towards making this a reality. Find out more or get in touch at:


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