Blog Engagement

Trust, Collaboration, Control: Three reasons why transparency at work is vital for employee engagement

Truly engaged employees don’t just want free fruit and flexible working. They want to believe that the work they’re doing has purpose and that the people setting the strategy are worthy. But to do that, they need to trust those running the show.

Not so long ago, organisations could keep their dirty laundry hidden away from the world, including from their own employees.

Big brands could silently trample workers’ rights. Corporations could easily cover up data breaches. And fast-food giants could use “secret recipes” that included unethical ingredients without anyone really raising as much as an eyebrow.

But as Bob Dylan famously penned, the times they are a-changin'.

In today’s tech-focussed world, where sites like WikiLeaks and Glassdoor can very quickly and publicly shine a light on any wrongdoing, organisations are becoming increasingly accountable: to their people and their customers.

With access to greater insights than ever before, employees are more informed about the companies they choose to work for and buy from.

Glassdoor reports that 58% of job seekers read at least six reviews before deciding if they want to work for a company. 70% will read at least one review before signing that contract.

The link between transparency and engagement

Gallup's 2021 State of the Global Workplace report says that 80 per cent of employees worldwide are disengaged in the workplace. The first drop in more than 12 years!

Misinformed business leaders still dismiss employee engagement as an HR initiative, simply there to “keep staff happy”.

But why is transparency so important?

“Engaged employees are in the game for the sake of the game; they believe in the cause of the organisation, so long as you help them see it.”.

Paul Marciano, co-founer at Guess? Inc

First, we need to realise that a happy employee need not be an engaged one. Somebody slacking off and spending their days on socials without anyone noticing could hardly be described as “engaged” but they may well be very happy at work.

It takes a lot more than just keeping your workforce happy and having fun to ensure a high level of engagement, and all the benefits that can bring. Of which there are lots.

A big part of the engagement puzzle is about getting employees to believe in, and stay committed to, the cause of the organisation.

How can we achieve this?

By being honest with them. Answering their queries, letting them know what’s happening across the organisation, and the reasons behind the decisions.

Put simply, you need to be transparent.

Transparency leads to trust

Without trust, it’s difficult to get employees to connect emotionally to your organisation. This means their motivation will be limited to little more than their salary.

If leadership is guarded about key information like activities, targets and direction, employees will feel anxious, left out the loop and demotivated.

You can’t build a culture of transparency unless it’s practiced across the entire company. So, it’s up to business leaders and managers to take responsibility and promote a culture of transparency from top to bottom.

The first step to transparency in any organisation is to show your employees the reasons and context behind your company’s vision and objectives. This will make it easier to get buy-in.

Next, align the work staff are doing to values and objectives. Consider using the OKR framework to make visibility a priority when you set targets for your people.

Managers need to build trust within their teams too. High levels of trust encourage employees to feel more confident in raising issues, asking for help, or highlighting their success – all small steps that can help build engagement.

So, transparency for managers is also essential.

Managers can help their people better understand their individual roles, how they relate to organisational objectives, and see the bigger picture.

Employee feedback tools, frequent 1:1s and goal-setting can all help here.

Transparency fosters collaboration

Building a collaborative work environment without a shared purpose is almost impossible.

Many employees aren’t sure how their peers in their own team, let alone those in other departments, are contributing to company goals.

This lack of transparency prevents employees from collaborating effectively and leads to disengagement.

That’s why we need to enable and encourage employees to communicate outside of their own silos. But importantly, to be open and honest with that communication. They’ll be more likely to share the mistakes they’ve made, challenges and problems they’re facing, and ideas and initiatives they have in mind.

This will help your company learn, grow, and succeed as a team rather than as individuals.

Using employee communication tools and project management platforms makes it simpler for employees to share knowledge across teams, connect with the right people with the skills or experience they need, and access the right resources they need to succeed and be engaged.

Transparency improves employee autonomy

If you delegate a task to a member of your team but fail to give context, they’ll end up being confused, indecisive and ineffective. Let them know why it’s assigned to them, how it contributes to the businesses objectives, the resources available to them and expectations (quality, quantity, deadline) you have.

When people don’t feel in control of what they’re doing it becomes much harder to achieve success, care, or be engaged. 

Many companies find it hard to get employee buy-in for task delegation, growth and development programs. They merely want to get their day-to-day tasks done and leave. The reasons behind this resistance include fear of change and disengagement.

The best way to overcome this resistance is by being transparent.

Communicate the following points clearly to give clarity to your people and create a more positive and receptive attitude.

  • How is the project relevant to your employee?
  • How does it help both them and the business (align this to objectives)?
  • The amount of resource that will be allotted to them.
  • Any expectations around output (timescales, quality KPIs etc.)

Transparency is key to employee engagement.

Employee engagement without transparency isn’t really engagement. It’s a one-way request to deliver without treating your people like adults.

Without transparency, your employees will lack direction and motivation. They will struggle to build any sort of emotional commitment. You’ll find it hard to get your team to push beyond the bare minimum.

Consequently, your performance will stagnate quickly too – after all, engagement and performance are two sides of the same coin.

Transparency requires you to develop a feedback-oriented and collaborative culture. Having the right tech tools will go a long way in helping you achieve it.

Want more engaged people? Download our free feedback cheat sheet to see how to start.