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The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Notes About Transparency

COVID-19 Weekly Culture Pulse Survey: April 6-10, 2020

For many employees, the last few weeks haven’t just been partly cloudy or overcast. They’ve been as foggy as pea soup. Fortunately, for many others the corporate climate has been more clear, which provides an excellent contrast for measuring the importance of transparency in current work experiences.


After conducting online interviews with 1,715 employees across the U.S., Canada, and the U.K., here are the key points we learned, or confirmed:

1. Transparency is (still) a critical cultural factor. Employees absolutely crave it.

2. Even for organizations not historically transparent, the COVID-19 crisis provides an opportunity to dramatically improve their culture by being transparent now.

3. The opposite also holds. Previously transparent companies can quickly destroy trust if they don’t maintain transparency.

4. Less-than-transparent organizations risk damaging their cultures and losing good employees.

Let’s be clear about the word itself. Transparency, in the context of business culture, is honest, complete, forthcoming communication. It’s binary in that leaders either communicate transparently at a given point in time, or they don’t. But the frequency of such communication dictates the degree to which a company is perceived transparent. And employees are the judge.


As important as oxygen


Organizations that increased transparency with their employees since the start of the COVID-19 crisis have seen:

As one respondent puts it,

“I really appreciate our company leaders being so open about what they are struggling with and things they are considering doing to keep the business afloat.”


Now’s the best time to be transparent


Because these numbers represent only the time since COVID-19 began spreading, there’s a clear correlation between the intensity of the moment and the opportunity for improvement. In other words, this crisis gives organizations a nearly blank slate to work from. Of course, that works both ways. Just as a company with a poor track record of transparency could quickly improve its culture according to those metrics, one with a previously great record could conceivably tank theirs.

Consequences of opacity

No one questions how difficult transparency is, especially when jobs may be on the line. But discomfort and even discretion rarely outweigh employee demands. People expect their leaders to be transparent with them, no matter how bad the news.

“I just want to know what I need to plan for. Yeah, it will suck to lose my job. But I’d rather know beforehand that it would be a possibility than find it out one morning when I can’t get into work.”


In organizations where perceived transparency fell since the start of COVID-19, employees report:

Lack of transparency also causes employees to be 102% more likely to think their organization was unprepared for the COVID-19 crisis, and 25% more likely to worry about losing their jobs.


The moral of the survey


If your organization hasn’t communicated candidly, completely, and consistently in the past, now is an extremely valuable time to start. Employees want transparency so much during this pandemic that, according to the data, they’ll let bygones be bygones.

Conversely, companies that don’t seize the opportunity to be transparent do so at their peril. COVID-19 won’t last forever. And companies without healthy, transparent cultures are more likely to follow it.


Stay tuned to our COVID-19 weekly culture pulse surveys for insights that will help your organization to weather the storm.

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