Updated: Jun 20
Is the need for trust in the workplace a fallacy? It is not. It is real. Ask your employees. However before venturing in that direction, prepare yourself for responses you are likely to receive.
Trust is the belief that the words and actions of one’s leadership and coworkers will reliably align and that workplace processes will produce results that are in the best interest of the organization’s members, mission, and purpose.
Leadership Trust Matters
Leadership trust matters, a lot. According to research conducted by Gallup, when employees strongly agree that they trust the leadership of their organization, they are 4x as likely to be engaged. Yet, trust in leadership is on the decline. Only 21% of U.S. employees strongly agree that they trust the leadership of their organization. When there is a loss of leadership trust, confidence, and integrity, what are the signs? Here are just a few:
Employees become careless or care less about process, product, services, and /or customers. There is genuine reluctance to contribute new ideas during meetings.
Skilled and talented employees leave the organization for competitors.
External stakeholders — business associates, community partners, customers/clients, etc.— begin to minimize or end the relationship with you or your organization.
Profits decline or funding and partnering opportunities for nonprofits weaken for your mission, such as less donations.
Public constituencies and media communicate an inherent dislike or hatred for company leaders which ultimately hurts the company brand.
Employee trauma caused by an incident translates into an unsafe work environment.
What Happens When Leaders Lack Trust
According to Cornell University Professor Tony Simons, “when employees sense an inconsistency between what their bosses say and do, it triggers a cascade of effects, depressing employees’ trust, commitment, and willingness to go the extra mile.” Since employees are closest to the processes that produce products and/or services, leaders should consider that the cost is too high not to address lack of trust making its way through the workplace.
There are several corporate failures of trust, confidence, and integrity: The Weinstein Company, Facebook, Uber, University of Phoenix, NFL, and Vice Media, not to mention recently Southwest Airlines.
While easy to destroy, trust is difficult to reestablish, especially when degraded over time. Leaders who lack trust are typically not prioritizing the needs of employees nor the organization’s culture. In this case, the issue may be linked to leaders’ or employees’ behaviors slowly chipping away within organizational culture. For example, restructuring or layoffs leave employees unaffected feeling confused and abandoned by changes. In addition, a lack of transparency results in feelings of uncertainty about the employee’s future or that of the company.
To build and sustain trust, it is important to plan for long-term commitment. Changes in the behavior that led to mistrust is difficult to change, but worth the work. Depending on the incident that served as the catalyst for harnessing mistrust, such as a sexual harassment or misconduct situation, it may result in ending the employment of a leader or employee. However, remaining employees will still question the actions to make the workplace safe and whether senior leaders can be trusted again.
High-Trust Behaviors Essential for Effective Leadership
As previously mentioned, trust in leadership has a direct correlation to increased employee engagement. So, how can leaders build trust? Here are a few ways to promote trust and begin to establish high-trust behaviors:
Promote transparency. Employees appreciate this more than you can imagine. Ask employees what transparency looks and feels like in the organization. What behaviors are present when transparent communication exists? Then, establish a communication process that creates and sustains a culture of openness.
Cultivate cross-departmental collaboration. Direct attention to ways to building your company community that makes connections across departments, such as projects which promote collaboration and of course, communication.
Be honest. Promote honest engagement and candor, which begins with respecting every employee.
Model accountability. Be willing to acknowledge your errors/mistakes and learn from them.
Be vulnerable, in other words be open. Allow employees to know you better. Get to know them. Ask for their input and ideas and find ways to incorporate feedback.
Honor basic human needs. Spend time understanding how to apply basic human needs
Trust has to be earned and should come after the passage of time.
Legendary tennis champion Arthur Ashe said, “Trust has to be earned and should come after the passage of time.” That being said, if your organization is in the process of building or rebuilding a culture of trust, time is of the essence, and it takes time to repair the harm and trauma caused by a loss of trust, confidence, and integrity.
The is top-down work. If employees do not trust you as their leader, start with your team. Consequently, leaders must embrace both attitudinal and behavioral changes necessary for employees to genuinely believe in their leadership and the organization again.
Leaders Need Development
At Workplace Peace Institute, we assist organizations in creating highly engaged workplaces where dignity is consistently honored and experienced. We envision a workplace in which people and organizations thrive. Building trust means creating innovative and productive teams who sincerely want to help the organization and peers to be successful. We invite leader to enroll in the Leading With Trust and Integrity online leadership development course to explore behaviors you need to build trust in your organization.
Workplace Peace Institute is an organization systems design and research firm that is singularly focused on creating workplace cultures where people thrive. Workplace Peace Institute supports small to mid-sized businesses in optimizing employee engagement, maximizing organizational productivity, and improving profitability by infusing human security and dignity as foundational attributes of their business model. Our Leadership Academy supports leaders in honoring basic human needs and dignity needs in the workplace, so they can actualize human potential in the workplace. The online Leadership Academy optimizes competencies in human behavior, communication skills, conflict resolution, and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging to create highly engaged workplaces where basic human needs and dignity are consistently honored. All our courses are offered online and can be customized for in-person workshops and seminars.