The word ‘trust’ is such a simple word, but it carries such a heavy meaning. A lack of trust in the workplace can become a virus that infects your company culture. It begins from the top to the bottom – from the leadership to the team, and then it leads to a cycle of unhealthy responses that impact performance and productivity.
Executives and managers dedicate significant time and energy to cultivate trust within their teams. This involves not only fostering trust in their employees but also nurturing reciprocal trust from their employees. Nevertheless, a considerable number of employees express that they do not perceive trust from their managers. When employees lack a sense of trust, it frequently leads to diminished workplace productivity and engagement. Consequently, it becomes imperative for managers to convey their trust consistently and thoughtfully in their employees.
Unfortunately, one in three employees don’t trust their employers, according to a survey by the Edelman “Trust Barometer.” Indeed, in the same Edelman report, it was revealed that trust decreases from top positions to the lowest. For example, 64 per cent of executives trust their organisations, while only 51 per cent of managers and 48 per cent of other staff trust their organisations.
A study by MIT Sloan Management Review revealed that trust is a critical driver of engagement. When employees are more trusted, they become 260 per cent more motivated to work, they have 41 per cent lower rates of absenteeism, and are 50 per cent less likely to look for another job. Meanwhile, most employers overestimate their workforce’s trust level by almost 40 per cent, which means there is a misalignment in trust between employers and employees.
“When trust is not properly established from the onset, an individual will not thrive. This does not mean they will become a bad employee. They could still come to work every day, do what is needed and most likely they will still meet expectations with respect to job duties, day-to-day tasks and they will pass their performance review. However, they very rarely will be at the level they could be; hence, they will rarely exceed expectations,” says Josée Larocque Patton, CEO and Founder at The HR ICU.
According to Jenn Lofgren, founder of Incito Executive and Leadership Development, there are three reasons why employers don’t trust their employees. The first is when the expertise has switched from the leadership to the team member.
“This often raises internal issues of whether or not you can trust them to be as ‘good’ an expert as you are. You don’t trust the individual’s competency, leaving you to want to step in and be the ‘expert’ again, not the leader you are now,” says Lofgren.
The second reason is when you’re not the expert in the field, but you still don’t know how to trust your team member based on their expertise. Lastly, the third reason is when you simply don’t trust the individual because they have not demonstrated their commitment to the team.
How to cultivate a culture of trust in the workplace
Trust is a two-way street. It has a big impact on how employees collaborate and work together on the same project. According to Patrick Lencioni, teamwork begins by building trust. He says, “The only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability.”
So, how do you foster a culture of trust in the workplace? What are the things you can do to start trusting your employees?
First, analyse why you don’t trust your team. Start by asking yourself why you don’t trust your employees. What’s at the core of this lack of trust? Have your employees broken your heart in the past because of their lack of commitment? You can use the BRAVING model by Brené Brown to check if they drew the line at one point. For instance,
Boundaries: Did your employees overstep your boundaries, consciously or not?
Reliability: Do they do what they say they will?
Accountability: Do they take accountability of their actions?
Vault: Did they share confidential information when they weren’t supposed to?
Integrity: Do they practice their values?
Non-judgement: Do they come to interactions with an open mind?
Generosity: Have they acted with good intentions?
Second, get to know your employees. Have you taken the time to get to know your employees? Do you know who they are in and outside work? Understand their values and the principles in which they live their lives.
Third, focus on trust around values. Not everyone within your team will necessarily share the same set of values as you, and that's perfectly acceptable. What truly matters is recognising your core values and understanding those of your team members. This insight can pave the way for open dialogues about your respective priorities and motivations. Depending on the project at hand, when you can explicitly clarify which values should be emphasized for a specific task, your team gains a clearer understanding of how to approach the project effectively. It's crucial to take the time to identify your expectations from your team, such as essential metrics and project milestones, and then communicate these expectations to your team members. Failing to do so sets your team members up for potential failure because they are unaware of your specific requirements and the reasons behind them. It's worth highlighting that to trust others, you must exemplify trustworthiness yourself. By demonstrating the practice of building trust around shared values, you not only foster trust in your team but also earn their trust in return.
When mutual trust exists between the employer and employee, their relationship often takes on the dynamic of "colleagues supporting one another." In this context, they collaborate effectively to accomplish tasks, not because they are mandated but because they understand the importance and have confidence in each other's abilities. While formal leadership roles are still maintained, with the leader conducting performance reviews and assigning specific tasks and deadlines, the employer's trust in the employee can significantly influence how these tasks are approached. Decisions and ethical choices become second nature, guided by the inherent trust they share.