How Aviva Canada built a culture of trust during COVID

Woman working remotely interacting with coworkers.

The pandemic has underscored the need for businesses to listen to and engage employees to ensure success.

The COVID-19 pandemic has tested companies in unexpected ways. For many businesses, it underscored the importance of building and maintaining a culture of trust. Trust has always been a priority for Aviva Canada, but the pandemic accentuated it. The insurance company made a conscious decision at the very beginning of the pandemic to show employees that the organization wholeheartedly trusted them to get their work done, manage their schedules, and navigate this tricky time to the best of their abilities. This led to better communication, productivity, teamwork, and engagement. 

Creating that kind of environment doesn’t come automatically. It takes commitment, planning, and transparency at every level of management. 

Why honesty, active listening, and being real are essential to building a culture of trust

During these unprecedented times, nurturing trust has been challenging for companies as they’ve had to reconsider how they interact and communicate with employees in fully remote working environments. Successful ones shaped their corporate culture through honesty even when it was difficult. For example, companies and their leadership teams must be active listeners who allow employees to ask hard questions and voice their concerns. Next, they need to take tangible actions to resolve those concerns and to provide transparent answers.

Danny Davies, Chief People Officer at Aviva Canada says, “Our first all-employee call with our people at the beginning of the pandemic was honestly a bit chaotic. Dogs were barking in the background, people had babies babbling in their laps while asking questions, and senior leaders were dialled in from their kitchens — but all of that was helpful because it kept everything real. Plus, our CEO Jason admitted that his nine-year-old son had just cut his hair. This all really set the tone that it was alright for people to be themselves in this completely new way of working.”

Companies need to model the behaviours they desire in their team members, and to recognize their achievements. For employee communications, consistency is key. It’s as simple as following through with what you say every time. Keeping this at the forefront of any promise made will result in better outcomes. Where this can fall apart quickly is by saying one thing and doing another, which is also why accountability is so important. 

When things don’t go according to plan, it’s essential to acknowledge it and to discuss how issues will be addressed in the future. It’s also necessary to have concrete steps to evaluate projects in an open, authentic manner. Sowing the seeds of building trust now will result in happier people, more productivity, and better decision-making over time.  

Aviva leads the way for employee engagement

While some companies mandated the number of hours employees working from home had to put in, Aviva Canada did things differently. It trusted its employees to do what they needed to do without any kind of contract. “We also told them to look after themselves first before doing anything for Aviva,” says Davies. “We were deliberate in saying that matters most. And not surprisingly, people gave us more than we could possibly imagine.” In fact, Aviva neither furloughed nor laid off anyone, nor did it have to take government money.

The result of increased trust bodes well for the future of work. Aviva found that employee attrition and rates of sickness went down, while company performance went up. As Davies points out, from its most recent employee engagement survey, Aviva found that it was 15 points above the top quartile of financial companies in Canada. And while it’s still a challenging time for some, Aviva’s staff members have said how much they appreciate being listened to and considered.

“How we approach communication and engage with our employees now will live with us way beyond the pandemic,” notes Davies. “It’s a guiding principle behind how we work and that’s not going away.” 

To learn more about how Aviva Canada supports employees and the company’s culture, visit

This article was originally part of a MediaPlanet content series.

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