A crucial element of all workplace relationships is trust. But according to the Microsoft Workplace Index, it is a commodity that is in short supply. Why is this, and what as HR professionals can we do to bridge this gap?
“Employees in high-trust organisations are more productive, have more energy at work, collaborate better with their colleagues, and stay with their employers longer than people working at low-trust companies. They also suffer less chronic stress and are happier with their lives, and these factors fuel stronger performance.” Harvard Business Review.
Trust between leaders and employees is the defining characteristic of a happy, healthy workplace. But reports from leading polls over the last six months show decreasing levels of what pulls teams together, increases engagement and keeps workplaces happy.
It seems today’s organisations have major trust issues. Leaders are fast losing trust in their employees, and adversely, the feeling is mutual (just 21% of US employees strongly agree that they trust their leaders). In this post-pandemic world, where the shift between remote and hybrid working has been largely successful, but where interaction is virtual and leadership largely faceless, is it possible to mend these bonds?
In order to answer this, we need to work out how trust is built.
The ingredients that create workplace trust
Of course, like anything of inherent value, trust is not created overnight. According to Gallup, trust in the top is created by what they term "The trifecta of leadership". This is the ability to lead and support change, to communicate clearly and to inspire confidence in the future.
And for leaders to trust their employees, there appears to still be some adjustment required for new models of working. Whether that's relying on better digital tools to allow connection and communication, or simply relying on a more 'outcome-based' style of work, employers need to address this alarming dip in the trust they have in their teams.
To create trust in the workplace, it requires consistent effort and intentional actions. Here are some strategies to foster trust among team members:
1. Lead by example: As a leader, demonstrate trustworthiness through your actions and behaviors. Be honest, transparent, and consistent in your communication and decision-making. Show integrity and ethical conduct in all aspects of your work.
When leaders demonstrate a lack of consistency between their words and actions, it can significantly impact their ability to inspire and earn the trust of their team. If team members see any incongruent behaviour, they can quickly doubt the leader's intentions and competence. This breakdown in trust can have detrimental effects on team dynamics and overall productivity.
Effective leaders understand the importance of building trust through consistent actions, open communication, and aligning their words with their behavior. By leading with enthusiasm, inspiration, and a clear vision, they create an environment where trust thrives. Trusting teams are more likely to remain engaged, motivated, and committed to achieving shared goals. On the other hand, when trust erodes, productivity may decline, enthusiasm may wane, and the collective pursuit of the vision becomes less compelling.
To be an effective leader, it is crucial to prioritize trust-building by consistently aligning words and actions, fostering open communication, and creating an environment where team members feel valued and supported. When leaders cultivate trust, they unlock the full potential of their team and enable them to work together towards shared success.
2. Communicate openly: In the first few months of the pandemic, workplace trust was at an all-time high. Why was this? In that confusing, discombobulating period just before and after lockdown, organisation crisis comms kicked in.
Business leaders were on their game communicating regularly, holding all-hands meetings, establishing Q&A sessions, being for perhaps the first time, candid. And of course their locations had changed, bosses were now at home, running businesses while dealing with barking dogs, homeschooling children and the general chaos of homelife. They humanised themselves, and displayed vulnerability.
This went down well with workers, 55% of whom reported positively about how their leaders communicated during this time. While we're no longer living in a global pandemic, it does provide us with some lessons on how we present ourselves as leaders: Establish a culture of open and transparent communication. Encourage honest dialogue, active listening, and the sharing of feedback and ideas. While no longer living in "unprecedented times", regularly updating employees on important matters and provide opportunities for them to express their concerns and opinions should not be undervalued.
3. Build relationships: We all know the importance of having a "work best friend" and encouraging team members to build positive relationships with one another. To foster a sense of camaraderie, respect, and support within the team. That's why team-building weekends, after-work drinks, and team meals exist. But when we're working in a dispersed setting, often never meeting our co-workers face to face, what do we do?
That sense of companionship was easy to build in the office - creating trusting bonds with team members, of all ages and backgrounds. But in remote working, it's far more of a challenge. The focus should be on allowing downtime for co-workers to chat with each other during the working day. While on the surface, this is not getting anything done, actively encouraging workers to forge bonds with each other, is profoundly valuable.
This can be done by having fifteen minutes at the beginning or end of a team meeting to talk TV shows, sport and family life. It can be forming Slack channels for dog owners, or individuals who follow a team, love reality TV, or share a hobby.
Not only does this improve engagement (by up to seven times, according to the Gallup study) it also instils a sense of trust that employers know that amid the chat and laughter, deadlines are still getting hit, and work is still a priority.
4. Recognize and appreciate: Recognize and appreciate employees' contributions and achievements. Celebrate individual and team successes, and acknowledge their efforts and hard work. Regularly express gratitude and provide positive feedback to reinforce a culture of appreciation.
Often, it is easy for individual hard work to go unnoticed. Deadlines, targets, and a fast-paced work day can often mean that individual success is rarely celebrated. While it's important to work as a team, when someone has gone out of the way to fix a solution, created a new process to save time or money, or generally excelled themselves, then it's important both as leaders and colleagues to recognize that.
Ensure your team is motivated to succeed, by providing them with the feedback and commendations that come from great work. A moment to share verbal praise carries far more weight than providing free pizza for the team at lunch.
5. Foster development and growth: Invest in the professional development and growth of your team members. Provide opportunities for learning, training, and skill-building. Support their career aspirations and provide guidance to help them reach their full potential.
When individuals receive support, training, and opportunities to enhance their skills and knowledge, they become more capable and confident. This, in turn, improves their performance, increases their job satisfaction, and boosts their overall well-being.
Well-invested individuals are more likely to be motivated, engaged, and committed to their work. When employees feel valued and supported, they are more likely to put in their best effort, leading to higher productivity and improved performance. Investing in people can also lead to the acquisition of new skills and expertise, enabling them to contribute more effectively to their roles.
6. Encourage collaboration and teamwork: Promote a collaborative work environment where team members can work together, share knowledge, and support one another. Encourage cross-functional collaboration and create opportunities for team members to collaborate on projects.
Collaboration brings together diverse perspectives, experiences, and ideas. When people work together as a team, they can leverage each other's strengths, knowledge, and skills, leading to synergy and enhanced creativity. Collaborative environments foster innovation, as the collective intelligence of the team often generates more innovative solutions than individuals working in isolation.
Collaboration also promotes open communication and information sharing. Team members have the opportunity to discuss ideas, clarify expectations, and provide feedback to one another. This fosters a culture of transparency, trust, and effective communication, which is crucial for smooth workflow, conflict resolution, and building strong working relationships.
7. Be consistent and fair: Demonstrate consistency and fairness in your actions and decision-making. Treat all team members with respect and fairness, and avoid favoritism or bias. Consistency and fairness build trust and create a sense of equity within the team.
Consistency and fairness build trust among employees. When individuals perceive that policies, procedures, and decisions are consistently applied and fair, they have confidence in the organization and its leadership. This fosters a positive work environment, improves employee morale, and enhances job satisfaction.
Remember, building trust takes time and effort. It requires ongoing communication, transparency, and a commitment to nurturing positive relationships. By consistently practicing these strategies, you can create a workplace culture that fosters trust, engagement, and collaboration.
Consistency and fairness also help prevent bias and discrimination in the workplace. When policies and decisions are applied consistently to all employees, regardless of factors such as gender, race, or personal relationships, it reduces the likelihood of unfair treatment and promotes equality. Fairness is fundamental to maintaining a diverse and inclusive workplace where all employees feel valued and respected.
However, mistrust is infectious. If an employee doesn't feel trusted, it can trigger a similar response in the interactions that person has with their co-workers and leaders. As a result, trust needs to be a focal point from the very beginning - in the onboarding and even pre-boarding process of the employee lifecycle.
How do we make workplace trust happen?
Trust in the workplace is essential for creating a successful, productive team. Building trust among employees, managers and colleagues helps to foster positive communication, collaboration and job satisfaction. Without trust, morale can suffer, conflicts can arise and projects may be delayed or even fail altogether. As an HR professional, it’s important to recognize the value of building trust in the workplace and to understand how to do so properly.
As mentioned above, the entire trust needs to be a key component of welcoming someone to the organisation. Introducing them to your core values - whether they instil a strong work ethic, mutual respect, lateral thinking or simply positive outcomes - helps to set out your stall in a quick, succinct way. These can be communicated during the interview process, included in the onboarding pack, displayed in the office - whatever works best for your organisation.
While some industries demand specific background screening, it's a step that all organizations should include in their hiring process - not least because it ensures that hiring decisions are based on accurate information and that only individuals who meet the employer's criteria are considered for employment.
This step normally includes pre-hire checks such as criminal history searches and employment verification. This process instills trust in the employer, it signals to the employee that they're entering a workplace that values personnel of a certain standard - and finally, it provides existing colleagues with the assurance that newcomers are vetted and verified, and are therefore not a threat to workplace safety.
Clear policy and compliance setting
Once you have successfully hired new employees, continuing to build trust is key. Leading with transparency is key. The company should have a clear code of conduct for employees, which outlines expectations and repercussions for any violation. It’s also important to set trust-building goals in order to hold everyone accountable to the same standards. One way to do this is by providing compliance policies and procedures in place to help you protect your business from risks associated with unprofessional behavior or illegal activities.
Compliance should be comprehensive, including measures such as employee rescreening, policy implementation, and regular audits of policies and procedures. These processes can help employers spot fraud and other wrongdoing by employees before it becomes a problem.
To build trust in the workplace, organizations should provide employees with ongoing education about their rights and expectations regarding ethical behavior in the workplace. It’s essential that companies create a safe environment where people feel heard, supported, and encouraged to communicate openly without fear of retribution or discrimination.
Transparency within an organization will help build trust between management and employees by creating an atmosphere where individuals can express their observations without fear of reprisal or judgment. Managers should be open-minded when responding to employee questions or concerns so they feel comfortable communicating regularly with management about potential issues or ideas they may have.
Responsible employers are adopting rescreening not only as a proactive measure to enhance protection and mitigate risks but also as a way of creating a trusting workplace. By implementing rescreening practices, organizations can identify potential threats early on, and also keep checks on behaviours.
By conducting thorough checks, organizations can select candidates who align with their values and standards, contributing to a trustworthy and dependable workforce. Employees can have confidence in knowing that their colleagues have undergone rigorous screening processes.
Organizations demonstrate their commitment to safeguarding their workforce, maintaining compliance, and preserving their reputation. Employee rescreening provides an added layer of protection and assurance, enabling organizations to make informed decisions and cultivate a secure and trustworthy work environment.
Organizations should also strive to create a culture of mutual respect by recognizing team members who make positive contributions towards meeting organizational objectives. Acknowledging accomplishments encourages others within the organization as well as provides recognition for those who do outstanding work while reinforcing organizational values and goals throughout an organization's culture.
Building trust takes time but for many business leaders, it is the holy grail of workplace culture components. Organizations put a huge focus on trust building simply because it creates so many benefits: more positive relationships among colleagues that lead to increased job satisfaction, improved productivity levels, better communication amongst staff members, reduced turnover rate due to healthier working relationships as well as lower costs associated with onboarding new personnel. All of these factors contribute to achieving overall success within any organization's overall strategy, ultimately leading towards its long-lasting success.