How to Build Trust in the Workplace

Updated: Apr 24

By Robyn Short, President & CEO, Workplace Peace Institute

Reimagining organizations by devising an innovative model that encourages productive, fulfilled, and engaged employees.

We are living in a time of economic uncertainty and change, leading to an increased need for organizational agility and innovation — both of which rely on high employee engagement. For many organizations, this means an intentional focus on cultivating a workplace culture of dignity. In the article, Creating a Workplace Culture of Dignity, I detail the five criteria necessary to create a workplace culture where all people thrive. Top on that list is trust.


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.


Research conducted by Workplace Peace Institute found that the single most important factor of cultivating trust in the workplace is creating an environment in which all voices are heard. Additionally, employees need to personally experience equity — fairness and impartiality in all aspects of their work — and they need to witness the same equity among their coworkers across the organization.

Basic Human Needs & Dignity Needs

Love, as a basic human need, plays an important role in cultivating a culture of trust. From a behavioral perspective, love can be understood as willing the good of another and offering active care for the whole person. Love, in the language of emotional intelligence, is empathetic empathy in action; it is the capability of understanding a person’s predicament and feeling with them, along with the willingness to help if help is necessary. Love, from a biological perspective, is a prosocial emotion that is present when basic human needs are met and when dignity needs are honored. In her book, Love 2.0, neuroscientist Barbara Fredrickson offers a neurological perspective of love.

[Love is] the momentary upwelling of three tightly woven events: first, a sharing of one or more positive emotions between you and another; second, a synchrony between your and the other person’s biochemistry and behaviors (i.e., feeling emotionally connected); and third, a reflected motive to invest in each other’s well-being that brings mutual care.

Cultivating a culture of love is necessary to build trust in the workplace. This requires that organizations honor the dignity needs and basic human needs of their members; it requires that they intentionally create opportunities for syncing members’ biochemistry (i.e., creating opportunities to experience the interconnected structure of belonging); and it requires that organizations pour into their members through intentional acts designed to assist development as both humans and professionals. When these three things occur, employees experience love at the behavioral, emotional, biological, and neurological levels.

Watch this webinar to learn how to activate love in the workplace.

The human brain is wired for survival, and building trusting relationships and strong bonds is one way of achieving that. An intricate feedback loop exists within the human neurological system designed to build and maintain human-to-human connection. This feedback loop begins with the sharing of a positive emotion. This exchange of positive emotion happens when dignity and basic human needs are honored. When a person experiences fairness, acknowledgment, acceptance of identity, etc., it produces a chemical reaction within the body. This chemical is oxytocin. Oxytocin supports the development of strong bonds, trust, and loyalty. When a positive emotion is shared and oxytocin is released, the person’s mirror neurons fire, creating a syncing of biochemistry between the two people or groups of people. This biochemical syncing creates the urge to invest in the wellbeing of the other. When basic human needs are met, oxytocin is released, causing a syncing of biochemistry, which produces more oxytocin, which in turn causes the individual to invest in the wellbeing of another. This entire process cultivates and sustains trust.

While experiencing having one’s voice heard and validated is critical to building trust, witnessing this experience with one’s coworkers is also an important element of cultivating trust. This creates a sense of collective equity and fairness.

This concept of being heard and being poured into correlates to the concept of relatedness. Relatedness involves deciding whether others are part of an ingroup or outgroup. Said differently, relatedness involves deciding whether someone is a friend or foe. Relatedness drives behavior in teams. People inherently seek groups where they experience a sense of belonging. The concept of relatedness is closely linked to trust.

Creating an environment in which all voices are heard meets the basic human need for love, which fosters a self-perpetuating culture of trust. An employee audit is an effective tool to gain insight into employees' experience of trust, as well as the feedback necessary to create a strategic and actionable plan for creating a workplace culture where people and businesses thrive.

 

Dr. Robyn Short is the president and CEO of Workplace Peace Institute – an organizational 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.