How to Build Trust in the Workplace in 9 Steps
When things go wrong at work, what’s your first instinct? To blame your people? To blame your systems and workflows? Or to get curious about what went wrong?
Trusting relationships don’t jump to blame when bad things happen. Your employees know that instinctively. If you‘re quick to blame others in a crisis, it can affect teamwork throughout the organization.
Now, does that mean you should blindly trust everyone in every situation? Of course not. But you shouldn’t make snap judgments either.
If you want to build trust in the workplace but you’re not sure how to do it—or if you don‘t feel comfortable with the trust-building process—this post walks you through everything you need.
Start by understanding the goal—what trust in the workplace means and what it can do for you. Then, learn how to spot a lack of trust in your company culture and find areas you need to change. Finally, discover how to build trust in the workplace in 9 simple steps.
Why is trust so important in the workplace?
When your company culture results in high levels of trust, employees are much more likely to give you their best work. Companies that trust each other report 50% higher productivity, 74% less stress, and 76% more employee engagement.
Creating an environment of trust doesn’t happen overnight, but corporate culture can evolve much faster than you might think.
Start by recognizing the two types of trust: practical trust and emotional trust. They have similar benefits, but you’ll need both for people to do their best work.
Examples of practical trust in the workplace
Practical trust is the kind most of us think of first when it comes to trust in the workplace. It‘s about what people do, like showing up to work on time, completing assigned tasks, working hard, and contributing to collaborative goals.
You can measure practical trust because you can chart its results. The behaviors are visible and quantifiable.
Being dependable and consistent creates practical trust in the workplace, building a general foundation of trust in your work environment.
Examples of emotional trust in the workplace
Emotional trust is harder to measure. It’s about what people feel, like knowing someone has your back or trusting them to own up to their mistakes.
If you develop your emotional intelligence, emotional trust is just as visible as practical trust. You can tell at a glance if people are comfortable with each other. You can see the easy camaraderie between team members.
Building the bonds of emotional trust can be hard work, but it doesn’t start by getting your employees to trust you. It starts by learning how to trust your employees.
How to recognize distrust in your team
“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” – Warren Buffet
Is your teamwork suffering from a lack of trust? Recognizing the symptoms of distrust is the first step in changing your company culture.
At some point, everyone has had a boss or client who constantly breathed down their neck. They nit-picked over minute details and told you exactly how you do every part of your job.
One of the sure-fire signs that your work environment lacks trust is frequent micromanaging. It’s obvious when you think about it. If you’re constantly checking on someone as they work, you clearly don’t trust that they’ll do anything correctly on their own.
Micromanaging steals your time, but it also robs you of your team’s expertise. By doing everything your way, you aren’t letting them bring their own skills or perspective to the table.
2. Body language
When our body language matches what we say, there’s a much higher level of trust in the workplace. Reading body language is instinctive. If it doesn’t sync up with what you’re saying, employees will know you’re holding something back.
That’s one of the main reasons that improving trust can take some internal work. If you’re telling people you trust them but you look nervous or uncomfortable, they’ll know you don’t mean it.
And if your employees agree with your opinions when their body language says they don’t, you can be reasonably sure they don’t trust you enough to tell you the truth.
On the positive side, body language can also communicate a genuine sense of well-being. When people maintain easy eye contact and open postures, especially while discussing controversial or difficult topics, it’s a clear sign that they’re extremely confident in their relationship.
Trailing the COVID pandemic, burnout in the workplace is higher than ever. APA’s 2021 Work and Well-being Survey reported that 3 in 5 workers are experiencing negative effects of work-related stress. 26% of workers reported a lack of interest, motivation, or energy, and 19% reported a lack of effort at work.
Meanwhile, 36% reported cognitive weariness, 32% reported emotional exhaustion, and an astounding 44% reported physical fatigue.
Leaders and employees have been asked to adapt and change constantly, often in unsustainable ways. And very few things break down trust faster than unreasonable expectations.
If your team seems burned out, don’t be too quick to blame the pandemic. Yes, that’s part of it. But it also comes down to how supported they felt through the crisis.
4. High turnover
Employee retention is another key indicator of trust in the workplace. When people don’t feel secure in their workplace, they’re quick to look for stability elsewhere.
That can cost your company a small fortune. According to one study, when an employee leaves it can cost up to 33% of their annual salary.
On the flip side, happy, trusted employees are much more likely to stick around. The 2016 Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For® reported an average voluntary turnover rate of just 10%.
5. Lack of communication
“Silence usually means people are holding back. Whether people are clamming up in meetings or avoiding questions behind closed doors, it’s up to you to understand why.”
– Joseph Grenny, co-author of Crucial Conversations and the cofounder of VitalSmarts
If you notice a lack of participation and creativity during meetings, or if you tend to receive vague, unspecific emails, you might have a trust problem. People are naturally guarded when they don’t trust others.
Psychological safety is imperative to sharing ideas, fostering creativity, and cultivating good problem-solving.
6. Low resilience
Resilience in team members is vital during stressful times. Unfortunately,65% of US employees view their job as the number one stressor in their lives.
Lack of resilience can be another indicator that people don’t have trust in their company’s leadership. People look to leaders to guide them through hard times and show them that their hard work and personal sacrifice aren’t a waste.
How to build employee trust in 9 steps
Here are some important trust-building techniques you can use in work relationships. Just remember that building trust takes time, especially if trust has been lost.
1. Be consistent & model behavior
Building trust requires mutual respect. If you expect certain standards from people, you have to meet those standards yourself.
Most people would call this two-way technique ’leading by example,’ and it helps people understand that you’re just as invested in mutual goals as they are. You’re willing to do what it takes to get the job done.
On the other hand, leaders who earn more, do less, and get more credit are terribly frustrating for the people who work with them.
Most of all, strive to be consistent. This includes your daily behaviors, like showing up on time and doing great work. It also includes honoring any commitments you make.
If you think you won’t be able to follow through on something, don’t commit to it. This may lead to a short time of discomfort, but it shows people you mean what you say.
2. Pay people appropriately
Within the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For®, 76% of their employees felt that they were getting a fair share of the company’s profits. By comparison, only 59% of employees from the remaining list of contenders felt that they were getting a fair share.
Pay is an uncomfortable, even taboo, topic in the workplace. However, appropriate pay is important for a person’s self-worth and perceived value.
Underpaying people, and pay discrepancies between employees doing similar work, can make them think their work isn’t as valued or that their leaders are willing to take advantage of them.
3. Be honest
In one workplace study, 41% of people reported being “not at all satisfied with their work” and told at least one ‘white lie’ every week.
Honesty builds trust in all kinds of relationships. The workplace is no exception. Hiding the truth signals to people that you want to manipulate them, presumably working against their best interests.
Don’t distort reality. Instead, have honest conversations with people, even if it‘s a difficult topic. While it can be uncomfortable in the moment, people will recognize that you won’t keep them in the dark on important matters. This is essential for creating trust in your company culture.
4. Admit your mistakes
Some 66% of people believe that talking about their faults will lead to rejection or mockery from others. Like many of the steps listed here, admitting your mistakes can be hard because it feels as if you’re making yourself vulnerable.
But that’s precisely the point. Opening yourself up to vulnerability signals the people around you that you trust them. Showing trust is a mutual behavior that encourages others to do the same.
5. Be transparent
You might be wondering what the difference is between honesty and transparency. Being honest means telling the truth. Being transparent means actively sharing how you’re feeling and how you go about doing your job. It’s about communicating fully and openly.
Open communication about how you’re feeling is another way to show that you’re willing to be vulnerable, making others feel much more willing to be vulnerable themselves.
Don’t hide advantages that could help others, even if sharing the truth makes you feel foolish. If the people you work with find out what you were hiding, they’ll feel as though your first priority is yourself, not the team.
6. Get feedback and act on it
Only 31% of employers use employee surveys and 13% conduct focus groups.
Formal initiatives to gather feedback on employee experience make people feel as though their thoughts and opinions are taken more seriously than a simple check-in.
What’s more important, however, is acting on the results.
If you ask for feedback but don’t implement changes, at least follow up with people to explain why. This shows that you’re listening to team members and actively considering their feedback.
7. Listen and communicate effectively
Listening is an essential part of communicating effectively. Conversations with team members should be two-way, with both sides listening and responding. It’s important to show you’re actively listening to them in order to build trust.
Give other people your full attention. Use frequent eye contact, hand gestures, and facial expressions to react to what they’re saying. This kind of body language shows people that they have your attention and that you’re invested in what they’re saying.
While mistakes are inevitable, another part of effective communication is using constructive criticism. Avoid singling people out or assigning blame. Instead, focus on collective efforts to find solutions and learn how to do something better going forward.
8. Show people that you care
When a leader is strongly disliked, they have about a 1 in 2,000 chance of being effective. It’s much more reliable to act in a way that people find likable.
Showing people you care about them as people—about their health, interests, dreams, and families—is one of the best ways to build emotional trust. Make note of the milestones and events in their personal lives and follow up on those things at a later time.
It’s much easier to trust a member of your team when they feel like a personal friend rather than just someone you work with.
9. Give employees more autonomy
“It’s not the tools you have faith in–tools are just tools–they work, or they don’t work. It’s the people you have faith in or not.” – Steve Jobs
High-performing teams often go hand in hand with high levels of autonomy. As teams and projects get larger, it creates a bottleneck when every decision has to go through the leader.
Trust that people know how to do their jobs best, and let them make decisions about it. Having faith and confidence in people shows that you trust them.
If you’re not sure they’re ready for autonomy, don’t default to micromanaging. Instead, provide professional development opportunities to help them improve their professional relationships and skillsets. It’s just another way to show that you believe in them and in their ability to advance in their careers.
In a February 2022 Gallup poll, 42% of people surveyed had a hybrid work schedule and 39% worked entirely from home.
When so many workers and teams are in different locations, businesses need a way to maintain a culture of trust. And 85% of employees say they’re most motivated when management offers regular updates on company news.
Today’s AI-driven intranet software allows for synchronous and asynchronous communication, getting critical notifications and updates to those who need to see them. It also drives employee engagement, backing up your hard work in changing your corporate culture for the better.
To see how a smart intranet solution can help you build trust in the workplace across virtual teams and around the globe, request a demo today.