Filling the trust bucket of deskless workers

Employees who aren’t behind a desk are more doubtful about their employers than other workers, Edelman finds.

Tom Corfman is a senior consultant with Ragan Consulting Group, where he directs RCG’s Build Better Writers Program, which teaches communicators, both internal and external, to sprinkle a little pixie dust on their copy.

When Peter Pan teaches the children to fly in the 1953 Disney movie, he says, “All it takes is faith and trust. Oh, and something I forgot. Dust!”

“Dust?” they ask.

“Just a little bit of pixie dust.”

For some executives, it will take more than pixie dust to build trust with employees who don’t sit behind a desk all day. By fairly wide margins, deskless workers are less likely than their desk-bound colleagues to say their employer is doing well on five key workplace issues, according to “Trust at Work,” a special report communications mega giant Edelman issued last week.

This matters because of the close connection between trust and employee engagement. Trust in leadership drops when employees lack confidence in the future and don’t feel inspired to do good work. Engagement then falls.

“If deskless employees lack your trust, they won’t give you theirs,” the report says.

Low grades
Edelman’s findings are based on a survey of nearly 7,000 people in seven countries.

Among deskless workers, only 41% say their employer is doing well to help them prevent burnout, compared with 55% of those at desks and 69% of executives. A nearly identical gap exists on how well the employer is reducing the business’s impact on the climate. Large gaps also appear in how employers are addressing DE&I questions, raising social issues and keeping partisan politics out of the workplace.

As a result, one in three deskless workers say executive management does not trust them. Of those, only 40% trust their manager and just 24% trust the CEO, according to a survey.

Trust rises dramatically among the 66% of deskless workers who feel that executives trust them. Of those, almost nine out of 10 say they trust their manager; nearly eight out of 10 trust the CEO.

Layoffs likely contribute to the mistrust, with 78% of all workers saying they’re worried about losing their jobs, up from 73% a year ago.

The survey defines deskless workers as those who do not work in an office or from home. They’re more skeptical of all institutions, in part because more deskless workers are low-income, according to a breakdown of Edelman’s survey sample. The survey was conducted July 20-Aug. 1, 2023.

Doubting everything
That general lack of trust shows up in views about the employers. Asked if they trust their employer, for example, 72% of deskless workers agree, compared with 81% of those who sit at desks and 89% of executives.

Edelman might be optimistic. Only 22% of U.S. employees strongly agree that they trust the leadership of their organization, according to a survey by Gallup conducted in May.

While trust is a two-way street, professional communicators must open up the thoroughfare. Promoting trust is an overlooked skill for communicators.

Deskless workers are hard to reach. They’re in the store or on the shop floor, with little personal contact with managers or the big bosses. They typically don’t use the intranet regularly. They’re not checking their email all day long and can’t talk on the phone to supervisors. They usually just receive quick instructions at the start of each shift about that day’s tasks.

Employers aren’t meeting all employees’ expectations. Of those surveyed, 81% say they expect it to be easy for employees to give input, but only 64% say their employer does this; 76% expect employees to be included in planning, but only 60% say their employer does this.

Listening posts?
When deskless workers were asked about how best to include their thoughts in decision-making, 69% said the CEO should experience their day-to-day work or the company should give managers formal support to voice their concerns.

The report provides other insights, including how Gen Z (born between 1996 and 2010) is transforming the workplace. More than nine out of 10 employees say they’ve been influenced by co-workers in their twenties on topics ranging from work-life balance to employer involvement in societal issues.

Moreover, companies should not step away from their commitment to social issues, the survey finds, although U.S. employees want less talk and more action:

Among Republicans and Independents considering a new job, less than half want the CEO to speak out on controversial issues, compared to more than 60% of Democrats. But more than 60% of all three groups want their potential employer to have a greater purpose, want the CEO’s action to embody the company’s values and want the company’s workforce to represent the diversity of its customers and community.

About the dust

In the movie, Walt Disney made one change from the play that affects this story.

In “Peter Pan or The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up,” first produced in 1904, Peter sprinkles “fairy dust” on the children so they can fly. And that was a late revision, as J.M. Barrie wrote with a wink in a dedication to the play:

“After the first production I had to add something to the play at the request of parents (who thus showed that they thought me the responsible person), about no one being able to fly until the fairy dust had been blown on him; so many children having gone home and tried it from their beds and needed surgical attention.”

While executives need more than pixie dust to build trust with employees, perhaps they shouldn’t try without it. Lest they too fall flat on their faces.

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