Trust is the foundation of any positive working relationship, but it isn’t innate; trust must be intentionally built and maintained.
Though there isn’t a single action item or tool that can build trust between employees, managers, and senior leadership, there are three core steps leaders can take to begin building trust at work:
First, set trust building as a company-wide priority and communicate this change top down.
Second, conduct an honest, ideally third-party, evaluation of what events, behaviors, or structures led to the absence/erosion of trust in your organization.
Finally, begin making changes based on the results of your evaluation.
In addition, consider the following 5 tips on building trust in the workplace that may be utilized as a long-term strategy.
1. Be Transparent
Companies and managers owe their employees honesty and clarity.
Too often, conversations in upper management don’t match communication to employees, so managers make decisions that affect employees without asking for input, communicating changes, or instituting feedback structures. Employees, though, are the backbone of the companies they work for. They do the work and deserve to be trusted with information that affects their lives.
For instance, now that the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States has been met with a vaccine, many employers are trying to figure out how to migrate employees back to the office. Instead of having these conversations in isolation, and then mandating directions to employees who are still experiencing the emotional toll of the pandemic, it would be better to either bring them into the conversation, or to at least let employees know that plans for returning to work are being discussed.
In addition, care should be taken to ensure that employees don’t receive mixed messaging, that communication is clear about a path forward, and that employees are able to understand their role in the process.
Put simply, transparency measures can help people feel like they are part of a community that cares for them, not just a company that expects work from them.
Beyond company-wide transparency changes, managers have a role to play as well. Managers sometimes enjoy maintaining a mask of superiority. The thinking might be that a manager landed their managerial role, so they have all the answers, never made mistakes, and should be assumed to be the smartest person on their team.
However, managers are people too, and employees need to see that. It is hard for anyone to trust someone they aren’t given the opportunity to know, see fail, or talk openly with. Therefore, managers must trust their employees enough to be real with them, and to lean on them for help making team decisions.
The expectation shouldn’t just be on employees to trust their managers; managers must also trust their people. Overall, when employees are trusted by their companies and by their managers, they are given room to trust in return.
2. Be Accountable
Have you ever had a manager, teacher, or supervisor who told you to take a certain action, that action didn’t yield the desired outcome, and you were blamed? How about a leader who promised to set you up with a mentor, commit to weekly check-ins, or review a certain assignment who just… didn’t? After you had this experience, did your trust in that individual stay the same, increase, or decrease?
If after being forced to take unwarranted blame or enduring a manager who didn’t honor their word you lost trust in them, don’t worry! You’re human; they weren’t accountable, so they didn’t deserve your trust.
Therefore, the importance of maintaining accountability in the workplace can not be understated. It is difficult to regain trust lost from patterns of poor accountability because accountability and reliability are intertwined, and trust comes when employees can rely on others at work.
The keys toward strong accountability are clear: do what you say you’ll do, own mistakes, and give credit where it is due. If any of these parts is missing, employees might not trust their managers to do the work they constantly ask of their employees, employees might not feel comfortable taking innovative risks for fear of holding sole blame, and trust might fade.
3. Listen & Act Appropriately
It is important that teams set up regular check-ins between employees and managers, but many workplaces have this structure in place without it yielding stronger, more trusting relationships.
In the world of Human Resources, if an employee submits certain claims, HR is legally obligated to investigate those claims - to act. Even in less serious circumstances, managers should behave accordingly. When employees are expressing themselves, managers have an opportunity to prove that they care by putting other work concerns on hold, paying close attention, and by following up with appropriate action.
For instance, if an employee explains to their manager that they are having trouble with a certain project, and the manager hasn’t really heard that statement, but lets the employee return to their task, the manager may be annoyed when the project doesn’t turn out the way they wanted. The employee may feel isolated and without the support to meet the manager’s standards.
Now, if the manager hears their employee’s concerns, but instead of helping the employee, chastises them, condescends to them, or seems annoyed at having to provide added assistance, still, trust is not built.
It isn’t just that employees and managers have to speak, it’s that they have to listen. It isn’t just that they have to listen; they have to act. It isn’t just that they have to act; they have to act appropriately. When these components are working in harmony, employees can trust their managers to be strong, reliable figures in their lives, and managers can trust their employees to be honest with them, and to express concerns.
Creating spaces for employees to speak about their concerns, their interests, their work, and who they are is only successful when managers listen and act appropriately toward what they hear.
4. Minimize Bureaucracy
Bureaucracy in business was created to provide uniformity and clarity in the workplace. Multiple layers of hierarchy, paperwork processes, red tape - it’s all to keep businesses running smoothly, and though rules aren’t inherently bad, some companies have overengineered their bureaucratic processes in ways that make it hard, if not impossible, for innovation to thrive. Innovation comes when employees feel safe and comfortable enough in their positions to take risks.
In other words, innovation comes from trust that employees feel in themselves based on trust their companies put in them. Bureaucracy stifles this trust.
In addition, companies that are overly bureaucratic can easily slip into an impersonal culture dominated by guidelines and an overreliance on old systems. When people show up to work feeling like the workplace isn’t inviting, but rather holds them at arm's length, this doesn’t inspire trust - it inspires stress and discomfort.
Where possible, companies should determine what layers of bureaucracy aren’t necessary. By isolating these structures and getting rid of them, transparently, employees learn that their companies believe in them.
5. Be Consistent
A company is not transparent by being transparent one time. A manager is not reliable by being accountable for their work only on some occasions. Employers aren’t good listeners for picking and choosing what they want to hear, and they aren’t successful at cutting through company bureaucracy if they only do so randomly.
The key to ensuring trust in the workplace is consistently working towards building it by consistently maintaining the previously described tenets of trust.
In addition, and on a day-to-day basis, it is important to be consistent with your work. If you submit monthly reports, each report should be up to your usual standards. If your job requires you to come to work at a certain time, you should do your best to be there. Of course, this doesn’t preclude unforeseen circumstances or other tumultuous events that may occur in your life, but on a regular basis, you should aim for consistency.
The Long Haul
As mentioned, even after trust is built, it must be maintained. Like a plant in need of sunshine and water, trusting relationships require constant devotion.
Thankfully, the payoff can include everything from higher profitability to happy, loyal employees.
Photo by fauxels from Pexels