Trust is an incredibly important part of the workplace. Recent studies are increasingly showing that employees — especially the millennial generation, who aren’t afraid to leave jobs and search out new ones if they aren’t satisfied — feel having trust in their boss and in management is absolutely critical to their job satisfaction. But what, exactly, does trust mean within the context of a workplace?
What Is Trust in the Workplace?
Trust in the workplace is a bit different than a trust fall, or the way people trust family and friends: It’s trust that the company is moving in the right direction, that the work an individual does is important and valued and that there won’t be any horrible surprises.
The key to workplace trust is to understand what it means for each type of workplace relationship. For employees, it’s trusting that their coworkers will help support them with quality work; that management will be there to support them when they have questions, need assistance or make mistakes; and that the company will continue to function in a way that keeps them employed. For managers, it’s the understanding that workers are able to complete the tasks they are given at the level expected, that other managers share the same big-picture goals and that the company will give them enough information for them to make important decisions.
Building Trust at Work
Building trust in the workplace is important because without it, at a fundamental level, workplace performance suffers. Employees who don’t trust management to have their backs and their best interests in mind aren’t going to put in any more effort than they absolutely have to and they aren’t going to take any of the big innovative risks that often can improve the company’s operation. Teammates who don’t trust each other aren’t going to collaborate as they should; a lack of trust contributes to critical details not being shared and miscommunications which lead to mistakes and extra work for the entire team.
Managers who don’t trust their employees to do the work end up either micromanaging — spending time hovering over an employee’s shoulder — or doing individual contributor work when their focus should be on management and leadership. Both of these take up valuable time, especially for middle managers, who often end up taking on projects of their own. And managers who don’t trust other managers to get things done and take care of issues are going to find themselves in a tight spot, potentially needing to elevate the situation to upper management for resolution. All of these things will end up taking time away from the real critical tasks on an employee or manager’s plate.
How to Build Trust
With all of that said, how do employees in a workplace actually build trust? It’s important that this starts with a manager and comes from that level of authority, so that employees can believe in it and become engaged with building that network of trust. Here are nine strategies to consider when looking to build workplace trust:
- Listen actively to connect with your employees.
- Encourage an open door policy.
- Display honesty, integrity and consistency.
- Show them the big picture.
- Explain the whys.
- Set clear expectations.
- Use frequent recognition.
- Engage in friendly check-ins.
- Show your trust first.
1. Listen Actively to Connect With Your Employees
This means developing personal as well as professional connections with your team. No, you don’t need to be personal friends with all of them, nor does this connection need to extend outside the workplace, but employees feel appreciated when their managers remember details about their personal likes, hobbies or lives.
The best way to do this is to show that you’re listening actively when employees come to you. Ask friendly questions about what they like to work on and listen and engage in conversations. Building these bonds helps to show employees that you see them as a person, not just as a workplace tool.
2. Encourage an Open-Door Policy
An open-door policy is exactly as it sounds: The manager’s office door is always open for questions or advice. This encourages employees to drop in casually when they need something and actively helps them bring their problems to management. Showing you support them consistently, no matter when they stop by or what they ask, automatically helps to build trust between you and your employees. It lets them know that you’re available when they need.
3. Display Honesty, Integrity and Consistency
This seems obvious, but it’s important to consider it from an employee’s perspective. Honesty means being truthful to employees and includes telling them when you can’t share something that’s confidential.
Integrity means showing you believe in the company and in the systems in place and are dedicated to the work going on in your department.
Consistency also means that all employees are treated fairly; no playing favorites, no talking behind other employees’ backs and no special treatment. Once employees see their manager "walking the walk", they’re more likely to follow.
4. Show Them the Big Picture
Managers often receive their goals from upper management, and these objectives filter downwards to the individual contributors at the lower levels. However, this means that sometimes the overall vision can get lost in the details.
Be sure to share the big picture with your employees, so that they understand how their work fits in. Help them understand where the company’s going, how it wants to grow and what innovative changes might be on the map; this helps employees feel that they have a future with the company.
5. Explain the Whys
There are often pieces of the big picture that can’t be shared with employees for whatever reason — to avoid potentially harmful gossip or simply because it isn’t anyone’s business.
In these cases, rather than fumbling around with a lie, explain to your employees when you can’t tell them something and why. It’s much better to say, "We can’t talk about this right now, because I’m not allowed to discuss those details yet." This may not answer an employee’s question, but it shows them that you’re honest — and also that you respect other people’s privacy.
6. Set Clear Expectations
Employees want to know that they’re doing the right tasks in the right ways, and above all, they want to avoid any unfortunate surprises about their performance. This means that as a manager, it’s your job to set clear expectations and make sure employees understand how they relate to their daily work.
When employees understand their role in the company and know that they can meet the expectations set out for them, they’re much more likely to commit to high-quality work. In addition, take the time to gently correct mistakes or address behavior that doesn’t meet the standards — before it becomes an overall performance issue that must be dealt with. This helps employees trust that you want them to be successful in their roles.
7. Use Frequent Recognition
Employees love when their work is recognized as especially good or especially important. While recognition methods like monetary rewards, certificates or small gifts are always appreciated, sometimes it can be enough to make the point of complimenting someone’s work during a meeting or an informal team discussion.
Let your employees know when they’ve done a good job with a report or a presentation, and be sure to personally thank them at times you know they’ve gone above and beyond. This helps employees know you see value in their work and helps to build critical trust that management is on their side.
8. Engage in Friendly Check-Ins
Starting a pattern of weekly or bi-weekly casual group meetings can specifically help build trust within your team. Have employees give an informal update on what they’re working on and use the team to discuss any problems they might have and share recommendations. This helps your team get to know each other and also builds bonds between members as they make suggestions and ask questions.
In addition, regular one-on-one meetings with employees encourage the open door policy and give employees a scheduled chance to bring up any issues they may need management’s help with. It always seems redundant to add more meetings to an office calendar, but these frequent, friendly group conversations don’t need to be very long. It’s worth taking the time to check in.
9. Show Your Trust First
This last suggestion may be the most critical one: show you trust your employees by delegating work tasks and allowing them to complete them without oversight or micromanaging. Give them projects you know they’ll enjoy, highlight the parts you think are most critical and then allow them to take ownership.
Letting them come to you with updates — whether personally or in a group meeting — shows you trust them to stay on task and on schedule. In offering your trust first, you’re opening up a chance for the employee to show that they are trustworthy. This in turn lets them give something back to you.
Implementing New Strategies
These strategies are easy to work into the normal day-to-day functions of any workplace. Consider how to implement each one specifically in your workplace, and then start easing employees into these changes. Once your team realizes that these changes are to help benefit them and that the goal is to improve the workplace, it should be very easy to get buy-in.
Stay consistent, but also check in and see what works and doesn’t work for individuals. Again, as with the open-door policy, let them know they’re welcome to make suggestions if they have ideas.
Evaluate Your Team
In addition, start evaluating your team, and look for instances where trust may have eroded between teammates or managers. These toxic behaviors — gossip, bad attitude, negative insults or bullying — are often easy to find once you start looking and talking to your teammates.
However, be sure to check in with people not in your department as well, because sometimes toxic individuals can hide their behavior from management. These negative people can erode the trust-building progress between teammates and management, and it’s important to correct their behavior and ask for an attitude improvement. Find out why their trust in the company and their team has decayed, and see if there are ways to build it back up.
Trust Is Essential
Overall, it’s critically important that employees can — and do — trust their teammates and their managers. This sort of work can have a clear impact on department performance and the company’s bottom line. Employees who trust their company tend to stay there longer; less turnover means much higher efficiency and more output from the department as a whole.
Employees who trust their managers become more invested in their own work and will work harder to deliver better performance because they know it will be noticed and appreciated. They also know when to come to management — for example, getting around an administrative roadblock — and when they can be trusted to do their own work in their own way.
Employees who trust their teams are more comfortable in the workplace; they show higher job satisfaction, which pays off in many ways. Look at your department and consider ways to help build that important trust; make it a foundation of the way you and your teammates operate.