High-trust culture: The key to future-proofing businesses?

Research has shown a high-trust workplace culture is what separates the best organisations from the rest of the pack.


The author

Evelyn Kwek

Evelyn Kwek, Managing Director,

Great Place to Work Institute Singapore

Talent shortage is a widely-known challenge in Singapore: 96% of employers here are struggling to find the right talent today, which could severely impact their business operations in the following years.

An alarming turnover rate of the millennial workforce (those born between 1981 and 2000), three times higher than the other generations, raises other continuity issues for today’s organisations.

As millennials represent close to 22% of Singapore’s resident population and are estimated to form 75% of Singapore’s workforce in the next decade, this war for talent in Singapore will only get tougher. It is no wonder, the ability to attract and retain talents who are “good fits” for organizations remain one of the key conundrums that keep C-suite leaders awake at night.

Despite the bleak picture, our long-term engagements with numerous organisations in Singapore and the region suggest there can be a winning strategy to this talent war: The best workplaces beat the competition by being intentional and focused on one thing – they build high-trust, high-performing workplace cultures; providing a great environment for all generations.

So, what exactly is a high-trust workplace culture? In simple terms, it is a workplace where trust-based relationships are highly valued, specifically when people can trust the leaders they work with and for.

The key drivers behind increasing this trust level for anyone are when they are treated with respect as a person, they view their leaders as credible, and they are treated fairly. Without trust (and a leader’s trustworthiness), employee engagement, at its best, is superficial and temporal; at its worst, leads to feelings of hypocrisy and disappointment.

Aside from trusting their leaders, all employees (regardless of age, gender or different backgrounds) tend to be more productive and engaged when they are proud of what they do and their organisation’s contributions; and when they experience high levels of camaraderie with teammates.

Decades of research, from both local and global Great Place to Work studies, confirms that a high-trust workplace culture addresses more than the talent war issue; it brings with it business agility that benefits all significantly.

Here are three considerations for business leaders who are serious about building high-trust workplaces and bringing out the best in their people:

1. Make your workplace a community to promote resilience

A universal quality of great workplaces is the strong sense of family and team experienced by employees across the organisation – we call this ‘community’ or in Singapore terms, the ‘kampong spirit’. When the going gets tough, relationships borne out of this community can be critical touchstones for employees in making their days more enjoyable, leveraging one another’s strengths, and cultivating a winning attitude.

A workplace that celebrates both successes and opportunities often, and actively promote transparency across all levels will, over time, encourage enriching conversations, diversity of thought and ultimately, innovation.

Reflect and evaluate if your day-to-day thoughts, words, and actions have added to, or unwittingly detracted others from developing this ‘kampong spirit’. Be courageous to openly admit areas that require more work or alignment.

2. Listen with curiosity to make better decisions

Increasingly more workplaces and leaders are realizing that tapping into the collective wisdom of an organisation is the key to success. Organisational goals to increase the levels of ‘openness’ and ‘engagement’ are often approached by giving employees multiple avenues to share their ideas, questions, and concerns.

However, these channels mean nothing if employees do not perceive an authentic desire, on the part of leaders, to actively seek out opinions prior to key decisions made that would impact them.

Send clear signals to let employees know they make a difference in the organisation – adopt a posture of “listening to understand” rather than “hearing to confirm”. Follow through with swift implementations where possible. Communicate with clear rationale and empathy when hard decisions must be made, after taking all things into account.

3. Define your organisation’s purpose and connect your employees to it

An organisation’s purpose, or in simpler terms, its clear reason for existence, is aspirational in nature, rooted in humanity, and inspires action. In the words of Simon Sinek, “People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.” We observe many great workplaces in and outside of Singapore who get this. Senior leaders of these high-trust, high-performing organisations spend an enormous amount of effort and time distilling what value they create for others, how they improve the world we live in, and find ways to inspire employees – helping them internalise their roles of purpose and contributions.

Shift your focus momentarily away from the business tools, processes, and operational system levers used to promote growth and innovation. Be honest with yourself and evaluate if you are building a career or a legacy – are you leading your organisation with purpose? If not, start by aligning your leadership team towards a meaningful and shared purpose to help sharpen your focus on where and how your organisation should function in the market. Consult employees across all levels to determine if the shared purpose resonates with them, and further refine.


Building a high-trust workplace culture is not a one-and-done approach. It does take consistent and deliberate effort to chart the change path, but not impossible. Many great workplaces in Singapore and around the world, have shown that ‘high-trust’ is not just a good idea to adopt when “your ducks are aligned”. The business case is strong, and their results are showing all-round. Is it time to define yours?

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