The Importance of Trust in the Workplace – and What Happens When it’s Lacking

For any organisation to succeed, all team members should cultivate trust among themselves. Because trust is a key enabler of Psychological Safety in the workplace, it should be the foundation of every decision within an organisation.

In his research, neuroeconomist Paul J. Zak has found that “building a culture of trust is what makes a meaningful difference.” This supports the fact that 55% of CEOs view a lack of trust as threat to their organisation’s growth, according to PwC’s 2016 global CEO survey,

Without trust, none of us can foster mature social relationships, no matter how “mature” we may consider ourselves to be.

Besides, trust-based relationships shouldn’t only be between employee to employer, but also between employees. We must trust that the group of people we share our lives with are dependable, whether they’re managers or coworkers. Otherwise, the workplace could become a hub of recurring conflict.

Despite leaders nodding along to these words, few of them have done something, if anything, to increase trust in the workplace. Which is understandable, as most of them may not know where to begin.

In this article, we’ll share actionable tips to help you strengthen trust relationships and Psychological Safety at work.

How Do You Build Trust in the Workplace?

Recognise excellence immediately

Recognition will always be the most valuable reward for good work. According to founder and president of WebFX William Craig, in 2017, around 90% of employees who received recognition from their boss indicated higher levels of trust in that boss. Yet, of those employees who received no recognition, “only 48% indicated they trusted their higher-ups.”

Leaders may feel tempted to congratulate their employees privately, but public and immediate recognition is powerful. In his article The Neuroscience of Trust for the Harvard Business Review, Paul J. Zak writes:

“Public recognition not only uses the power of the crowd to celebrate successes, but also inspires others to aim for excellence. And it gives top performers a forum for sharing best practices, so others can learn from them.”

That’s why it’s essential to provide employees with frequent recognition in real time. Besides offering honest verbal praise, you can also send them thank-you messages and cards, as well as give them awards and bonuses.

Improve Listening Skills

Every single day, supervisors get brand new opportunities to listen to their employees’ input. Trouble is, some of them have a distorted notion of what it means to really listen. This explains why employees may have conversations with their superiors and not feel heard at any moment.

Hearing the words they say is one thing. Considering their feedback and applying what seems feasible is another. Reasonably explaining why a suggestion shouldn’t be implemented is also a part of listening.

Plus, when asking your employees questions, make sure to actively listen and ask for clarification, if needed. Encourage them to elaborate further. Most importantly, be interested in what they have to say, whether you agree with it or not. After all, a big part of listening is taking in both positive and negative feedback while demonstrating openness.

Be Transparent

Think of the people you trust. You know, those people you feel like you can talk to about anything. What makes them trustworthy to you?

You trust them because you know they’ll never lie to you. Regardless of the situation, they’ll never sugar coat things. Yet, they’ll also consider your feelings in the process. That’s what transparency entails: honesty and empathy.

Whenever you’re discussing changes to business processes, your team should never be out of the loop. Even if things are looking down – especially if things are looking down. By informing them of imminent changes and encouraging their input, you’ll show them that their participation is essential.

Conversely, your employees won’t trust you if they learn about major changes through someone else. They’ll just assume you don’t care about them enough to share company transitions with them. And they’ll be right.

Trust in workplace

What Does Trust Enable in the Workplace?

Around 80% of respondents of a 2019 survey by the HR Research Institute believe engagement is “highly linked to trust in the relationship with the immediate supervisor.” That’s only natural, since trust is known for building employee engagement, driving higher quality work, and improving results for any company.

Besides, those working at high trust companies have reported a 74% decrease in stress, a 106% increase in energy, a 50% increase in productivity, 13% fewer sick days, a 76% increase in engagement, a 29% increase in satisfaction, and 40% less burnout. This data is based on Paul J. Zak’s research.

When employees feel that they can be trusted and trust others, the office – be it physical or virtual –  becomes a safe place. When people feel safe, welcome, and seen, they’ll return the favour. And they’ll be happy to do so.

How Does Trust Get Eroded?

When a superior puts their needs above the best interests of the company, trust tends to crumble. Breaking promises and micromanaging your team are also fail-proof ways to erode trust. And, once broken, trust can be difficult to rebuild. It’s possible, but it takes double the work.

Here are some ways you may be breaking trust within your organisation:

  • Withholding information from one or more groups of people.
  • Favouring a select group of people over another, even if that means you’re attempting to create a “healthy competitive environment.”
  • Micromanaging your team, which is key to increase demotivation and staff turnover.

Surprisingly, certain leaders mean well when doing such things. Perhaps they’re trying to motivate their employees to work harder, but are clearly falling flat in their endeavours. Avoiding the above forms of trust erosion will make a difference on your relationship with your team — as well as their relationship with you and the organisation.

What Happens When Trust Levels Are Low?

“In my work helping hundreds of organisations improve their company cultures, I’ve found that a lack of trust is often at the core of dysfunctional office environments,” says Shelley Smith, founder and CEO of the Premier Rapport consulting firm.

When trust levels are low, team members will fail to trust team leaders, and vice-versa. The result? Employees may adopt an “it’s just a job” mindset and do the bare minimum, all while planning their resignation. Whereas employees may engage in favouritism, only trusting and including a specific group of people.

This type of behaviour from all angles may spread in all directions, which could result in withholding of information, gossip, personality clashes, and a lack of productivity. Suddenly, low trust levels prevent the entire organisation from moving forward.

Trust Should Be At the Cornerstone of Any Successful Organisation

There’s no Psychological Safety without trust. And when there’s no Psychological Safety, an organisation leaves growth opportunities on the table.

For best results, organisations should build and foster trust in all directions. Yes, the team should absolutely trust their leader. However, if the leader doesn’t trust the team and the team members don’t trust each other, all relationships will be one-sided. And therefore, ineffective.

In the words of William Craig,”trusting one another is one of the most valuable commodities we possess.” Organisations built on a wobbly concept of trust and doing nothing to reinforce it will eventually collapse.

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