Trust in the workplace is one of the most important element of an engaged successful organisation
Organisations where employees trust each other tend to be more productive and have a more engaged workforce. However, organisations with low employee trust tend to be less successful and find it harder to keep talented employees. Trust in the workplace is often hard won. It requires us to let go of control, and allow others to make decisions and act without our direct (micro-managing) influence. Trust is built over time; it is delicate and requires maintenance. Without trust in the workplace we are likely to exhaust ourselves by taking on too much, undermining colleagues or wasting the power of being part of a team. Trust is like glass, when broken it can become dangerous.
One way we break trust is to repeatedly break our promises. If we can’t keep a promise to a client, an employee or a colleague (for whatever reason) it is essential to get back to them timeously and explain why. Promises often involve small things, but they’re important in maintaining an environment of trust. Research over the last 40 years shows that trusting employees, giving them ownership over their work and an opportunity to solve problems, improves employee job satisfaction significantly. Without trust our ability to achieve significant goals as a team is limited. Maintaining a high-trust environment requires practising and utilising these five key components:
1. Open Communication
Clear and honest communication is the first and most important ingredient for creating a more human workplace based on trust and mutual respect. This requires building an environment that encourages an exchange of dialogue and ideas. It also requires us, as leaders, to be honest and not hide relevant information. Well-informed employees with an opportunity to have a say are more likely to have greater confidence in their leaders. Many managers believe that in order to get the right results they need to lecture employees. However, when we reflect on this, we soon realise that lecturing employees implies we do not have faith in their decision-making abilities. This often results in employees becoming defensive rather than engaged. Additionally, when we constantly lecture employees they can lose faith in their own ability to make decisions, leading to a decrease in confidence and necessitates more lecturing. Rather than lecture employees, consider using reflective questions, such as “Have you thought of … ?”, “Perhaps you could consider … ?”, and “What do you think about … ?”
“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” John F. Kennedy
2. Build a learning organisation
Part of building trust in the workplace is realising that nobody is perfect, and learning from mistakes. When a mistake is framed as a failure, employees are more likely to hide them than learn from them. Hidden mistakes increase mistrust. Listening to learn and valuing employee’s feelings and ideas promotes effective communication and knowledge sharing. Listening to learn means not inserting our opinions and judgements while the employee is still speaking. Listening is a skill that can be improved with practice. It starts by being prepared to hear first then formulating a response, instead of waiting for an opportunity to insert our opinion. When we interrupt someone who is attempting to communicate, it prompts a negative emotion. It is essential in building trust to let our employees know that we are willing to listen, even though it may not result in agreement. Starting with a simple “Talk to me about it” is an effective way to begin a dialogue that can lead to increased trust and participation in finding solutions. Facing issues directly and openly, and contributing to the solution (rather than lecturing), is an important step in preserving trust.
3. Demonstrate confidence in others
Employee trust is directly linked to demonstrating confidence in our employees and the support we demonstrate in their abilities. Show employees you trust their ideas and experience, and it can produce significant results. Micromanaging employees stifles creativity and productivity, and encourages action only when specifically directed. Trusted employees take more pride in what they do. When employees feel trusted they are more likely to take initiative and work beyond the limits of their job parameters. Empowered employees with a clear sense of the organisation’s values are more likely to make positive decisions, take action, and accomplish strategic goals with minimal supervision. Research into diversity shows that encouraging varied points of view can uncover constructive solutions that otherwise would not have been discovered.
4. Develop your EQ
Emotions have a direct impact on trust levels in the workplace. Your EQ is made up of two core elements: personal competencies and social competencies. Personal competencies involve the awareness and management of our emotions. Social competencies are about the awareness and management of others’ emotions. Studies by Wharton and Harvard showed that anger and anxiety decrease trust, while gratitude and a sense of belonging increase trust. One of the most important things we can do to increase trust is to make employees feel that they are valued. Highly competitive environments tend to increase fear and anxiety which leads to an erosion of trust. Employees start to focus on what keeps them safe rather than on what is “right”. This type of environment will likely stimulate a CYA (cover your ass) workplace and is the antithesis of a learning organisation as it reduces innovation and teamwork.
5. Be consistent
Unpredictability is disruptive as it creates uncertainty. Uncertainty isn’t ideal for producing our best work or dealing with customers in an efficient and engaging manner. Negative moods (especially the boss’s) are contagious and spread like a virus, infecting every corner of the organisation. Emotional intelligence skills help us regulate our emotions to effectively foster a healthy work environment. Transparent communication is the foundation for building trust, but consistent action is the glue that holds it together. To build and maintain trust we must consistently demonstrate honesty and integrity in our speech and actions. When we are perceived as fair and honest, we are also likely to be perceived as trustworthy.
The ability to build and maintain trust in the workplace starts at the top, and then must be encouraged and developed through the rest of the organisation.
Latest posts by Richard Riche (see all)
- Harnessing the power of psychological safety at work - 2 January 2019
- 5 keys to creating sustainable continuous improvement - 19 November 2018
- Using organisational voice to support Change Communication - 28 September 2018