What does trust in the workplace look like?
It might be better to ask what trust feels like. Trust is really an emotional response in the workplace, as it is anywhere. Employees need to know that their managers are on their side and that they will be treated like adults, not children. This means that you should avoid micro-managing. If you oversee people with a light touch and trust their judgement, then they will prove trustworthy.
If your employees trust you, they will have confidence in your decisions. They believe that you will do what you say you will do and so they feel “safe” with you. If your words and actions do not match, then that trust will be lost.
Once trust has been lost, it can be very difficult to recover. It is much better to build trust from the very beginning of your interaction with every employee. You need to earn the trust of people by delivering on what you say and keeping promises.
Behaviours to build trust in the workplace
- Gratitude: Find something to thank people for and give them praise when it is due. We all like to receive unsolicited, unplanned praise and thanks. It feels good if our actions are noticed and appreciated. But it has to be genuine. Give credit when you see good work and you will start to build an appreciative culture in your company.
- Compassion: Show your employees that you care about them and what they are doing and feeling. This can be demonstrated by listening to what they say and taking action where appropriate. Want the best for your employees. Value them as people more than you value them as “resources”. Be kind and say “yes” whenever possible. If you have to say “no”, then explain why. Be approachable and friendly. We trust people we like.
- Communication: Give others a chance to talk, to ask questions, get answers and voice concerns. Get to know them – and smile! Share information as much as possible – especially when it is necessary to the individual. Think about your body language and non-verbal communication and whether that is supporting what you are saying.
What other behaviours build trust?
- Avoiding Blame. Show support for your team members, even when they have made a mistake. Respond constructively to problems and help to find solutions. Keep your perspective and don’t over-react. Take responsibility for failures – even when they are avoidable. They are your responsibility because you are the boss and you must protect your employees. You might find it helpful to give your employees the benefit of the doubt. On the other side of the coin – admit when the company makes mistakes, or when you personally make a mistake. Treat mistakes as learning opportunities for you and your employees.
- Competence: Be good at what you do and be passionate about your work. This doesn’t mean you have to know everything – it is OK for your team to know more than you. If you do not know something, then admit it and say you will find out the answer. Then make sure you feedback your findings. Model the behaviour you want to see and make sure your managers do the same. Competence is important and you also need to invest in your employees’ development to improve their competence
- Credibility: Be transparent with your team and don’t try to hide things. Try to explain your thought processes. Be honest with them and ask for their feedback. It is critical to keep your word and follow up on promises. When you (and your managers) acknowledge your mistakes as well as successes, employees see you as credible and will follow your lead. Be comfortable owning mistakes. Consistency is also important, so don’t keep changing the goalposts. Consistently doing what you say you’ll do builds trust over time – it can’t be something you do only occasionally.
- Respect : Respect everyone and treat your employees like adults. Try to avoid bias and beware that sometimes bias is unconscious. You should try to remember that everyone else is just as important as you are. Always be respectful of other peoples’ ideas and perspectives and give people the benefit of the doubt.
Things you can do to build trust in the workplace
You need to be aware of how your managers and supervisors behave. It will help to build trust in the workplace if all of your supervisors are capable of forming positive relationships with people who report to them. The relationship between employees and managers is key to having trust in the workplace. When that relationship goes sour, then it permeates throughout the team. Choosing your managers and supervisors is key .
So-called “soft” skills are critical in the workplace. This includes skills to build relationships with people. This is not just for supervisory posts, but for everyone. These skills can be learnt and so it is wise to invest in developing people in these skills.
It is important to provide as much information to employees as possible. If there is a hint of some changes or anything which affects the workplace, then people will gossip and speculate. It is counter-productive for rumours to run through the organisation and so be as honest as possible and make sure you keep communicating. It is difficult to over-communicate.
Managing people issues helps to build trust
Your actions can build trust in the workplace just as much as your words do. It is important to deal with difficult employment issues firmly, quickly and fairly. People will be watching what you do. If you allow someone to “get away with” poor attendance or behaviour, then the trust of other employees will start to evaporate.
At the same time it is really important to protect the interests and the confidentiality of all employees, even those who are causing some difficulty. You must not talk about absent employees and you must not allow others to talk about them. Opinions about employees and their actions should only be shared with the individual him or herself.
I have already said that if you trust people they will prove trustworthy. If you believe that all of your employees are capable and willing to do their work to the best of their ability, then they will put in their best efforts to prove that you are correct. When you treat them like approachable adults, they are less likely to behave like sulky children.
Jill Aburrow runs an HR strategic consultancy business – JMA HR . She provides strategic HR advice and support to businesses who want to improve loyalty, growth and profit. Jill has been a professional strategic HR advisor for over two decades. She is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (FCIPD) and has a Post Graduate Certificate in Employment Law.