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Sir Brendan Barber: The language of trust

Tuesday 02 February 2016

Sir Brendan Barber discusses the value of trust in the workplace.

Sir Brendan Barber

Sir Brendan Barber is Acas' Chair, joining in January 2014. Previously Sir Brendan was the TUC General Secretary (2003 to 2012) and sat on the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service Council (1995 to 2004). Sir Brendan was knighted in the 2013 Birthday Honours for services to employment relations.

Acas Chair Brendan Barber blog

Many of us will look at the coming events in the year ahead and create our own mental barometers about how much we can 'trust' particular developments at work. For example, do we trust plans to meet new reporting requirements on gender pay, or workplaces' commitment to introduce a new Living Wage? And what about be bigger events on the horizon, such as changes associated with EU negotiations?

Trust is based upon deeds as much as words, but good leaders give plenty of advance warning of what's going to happen, and words will often be long remembered. In a workplace setting, the words we use set a path for us to follow: in our written policies and procedures, in our emails, and in our face to face interactions. So, what are the building blocks that make up the language of trust?

As our own predictions for future Workplace trends of 2016 make clear, trust is not just about what's written down, its also about behaviour. This means reflecting on how we communicate with each other and how we treat each other.

So the language of trust certainly has something to do with fair treatment and inclusiveness. There is an interesting report on respectful language from the Centre for Welfare Reform. The report sets out the benefits of "using language as intentional action", but argues for "respectful language" that understands diversity at work and avoids management jargon.

Research has also shown that people are more likely to be trusting 'followers' if their leaders are predictable. Being predictable means doing what you say you will do - being true to your words but also understanding the implications behind them. Predictability has broader implications when it comes to workplace settings - such as offering a degree of transparency around job security, fair pay and also providing a steady commitment to looking after people's overall sense of wellbeing.

Leaders are often the ones responsible for telling the 'workplace story'. These need to be aspirational but realistic. As Anne Sharp points out in her pdf icon Workplace trends of 2016 [680kb] article, "people can spot an insincere leader a mile off", so emotional intelligence is key to getting the tone right (as well as the accuracy).

Trust is about being human, about acknowledging our problems (on a personal and organisational level). It is also about accentuating the positive. Anne makes another critical point: "as any individual leader knows, lasting success is not about personal ambition, but about serving your organisation so that it is stronger when you move on than when you arrived". Economic circumstances may dictate that 'stronger' does not always mean bigger or more profitable. But it can mean more resilient and more adept at responding to change.

Above all it means keeping your promises whatever happens. As recent research from Helen Wright of 'Great Places to Work' reports, the two top drivers of trust in the best workplaces are keeping promises and "actions matching words."

Trust is one of Acas' seven levers of productivity.

Read other blogs in our productivity series:

3 Comments

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  • Posted by WilliamBymn  |  14 February 2017, 3:00AM
    Hello. I need to contact admin. Thank you.
  • Posted by George  |  16 February 2016, 9:01AM

    Leadership is about authenticity, trust and relationships. A crucial step for leaders and organisations to make, to be aware of the advantages of high levels of trust is to set up a common definition and framework of how to build trust. Most of us think trust just occurs in relationships. Unfortunately it is a huge misconception. Trust is established via the intentional use of specific behaviours that when repeated over time, produce the condition of trust.

  • Posted by Nigel Dupree  |  8 February 2016, 8:53PM

    TRUST appears to go only one way when the only thing employees can guarantee is that their employers won't 'have their ears on' and the only thing they do is sustainably pay lip-service to any issues raised that, of course are deniable rather than seen as opportunities to address any questions surrounding performance and productivity let alone improve well-being though providing true purpoose and meaning to work that fosters and promotes a genuine engagement. 

    Work/life stress-fatigue, exacerbated by absense penalties and, the new 24/7 technologies, has driven the new sickie of "presenteeism" as performance anxiety insidiously results in working to live rather than living to work eroding any sense of belonging, approval and/or pride in work or vocation.

    Regulation, legislation and politically correct policies also have little or no affect without a shift in mind-set as personal ideologies  so often do not bridge the gap to mirror profesional ideologies fostering equitable and pro-social workplace environments.

    Simple example would be the acknowledged failure of the 1993 DSE Regulations  (HSE Better Display Screen RR561 2007) and resistance to ratify 2012 EU MSD Directive that does address the issues of Screen Fatigue, affecting 58% of user operators, caused by over-exposure to sub-optimal screen interface <span style="line-height:1.6em">ergonomics.

    <span style="line-height:1.6em">If, governments, their agencies and institutions were not morally and ethically bankrupt, apart from prooving fiscally imprudent then, there would be little or no need for a Whistleblowers Act let alone a WHO Global Campaign to improve "Workplace Health" driven by the UK Whitehall II longitudinal research surrounding the route causes of early onset of milder occupational health problems to more serious life changing / ending non-communicable diseases.    <span style="line-height:1.6em"> 

    <span style="line-height:1.6em">Sound bites, political spin and rhetoric are nothing more than expediency to go along with supporting or maintaining a sufficient degree of deniability to put off the day when some meaningful tokenistic action is required to quieten the critical masses and, if that fails, they then resort to using fear to introduce more controls over civil liberties - not that attempts at gagging charities, unions and media in a world now using social media will keep everyone out of the loop for ever or at least until the next election.