Do you trust your employees, and crucially, do they trust you?

We hear a lot about how trust is vital to personal relationships, but professional relationships depend upon trust just as much. Without it, things start to fall apart quickly.

Ernst and Young have conducted a survey which has found that less than half of global professionals trust their employer, boss or team/ colleagues. It seems that a ‘trust deficit’ is sweeping through organisations across the world, and this is sure to have huge implications.

It is not surprising that this situation has arisen given the current choppy economic waters: In times of economic downturn or instability, it is almost natural that trust diminishes in the workplace. It’s simply because no-one really knows what’s going to happen in the coming months and years. Another factor is the sheer amount of information we now have at our fingertips. Tales of tax evasion and other dishonest practices can easily be found with a few clicks, shining a spotlight onto our business leaders that may not always highlight their best features.

A working environment which lacks trust paves the way to low employee engagement, low motivation and high staff turnover.

If leaders are cagey, and refuse to share information with their workforce, then the natural tendency is for people to start creating and believing rumours. If there is a tense, suspicious atmosphere every day when people turn up for work, how likely is it that they will be feeling happy and motivated? The longer this situation draws on, the more likely it is that your staff will be hunting for jobs elsewhere: Most people need job security, and having an employer that they perceive as being dependable and trustworthy is part of that.

We can assume that working on the trust deficit is going to be a time-consuming process, as trust is something that tends to be built slowly. Simply telling people to trust you is a sure fire way to make them do the opposite. Of course, this depends on how bad things are already: If you have caught this issue in time, you will have less work to do. If not, you’re going to have something of a battle on your hands to bring people back over to your side.

Another point to consider is that it’s not necessarily just the trust between leaders and employees that needs to be built up – You may have an even larger task to work on: Trust between colleagues. If an environment of suspicion has been allowed to take over, it’s not always a given that a team will rally round and stick together. In fact, the opposite is more likely.

So what can be done? We need to get back to basics:

Start with trust

Seems obvious, doesn’t it? However when you think about it, why should employees trust leaders who don’t trust them? This is very much a two-way system. As previously mentioned, you cannot simply tell employees to trust someone; everybody knows that trust needs to be earned. One way to start putting a little more trust in employees is to give them more autonomy (along with accountability). If they have breathing room to do their jobs, it is almost certain that they will do them better.  They will also appreciate that you have given them this responsibility, which will help your working relationship immensely. As for trust between colleagues, this will hopefully filter down once ruffled feathers are smoothed, and people are a little less on edge.

Aim for transparency

Leaders need to ensure that transparency is part of the culture. It is up to them to lead by example on this. Once the leaders at the top start communicating freely, it has a trickle-down effect. Rumours are squashed, and everyone knows what’s going on (within reason). This doesn’t necessarily mean pay transparency –the jury’s still out on whether or not this is always a good idea – but the direction and values of the company should be made clear to employees. Everyone needs to know what your mission is at all times.

Look closely at company culture

By now you will probably have read one of the millions of articles about company culture, but have you acted on any of the advice given? Trust should almost exist automatically in a company that has focused on building a positive culture that reflects its values. When everyone is pulling together in the same direction, it makes it much harder for insecurities and doubts to weave their way into your teams. If trust is present, it also has a huge impact on every aspect of business, including innovation; according to The How Report, ‘High Trust’ organisations are 11 times more likely to be called more innovative than their competitors.

Once these basic points have been addressed, you should start to see relationships improving. It is perhaps worth mentioning that this is an ongoing process; you cannot simply do a ‘trust review’ and carry on as usual. The second you lose sight of the importance of real trust in company culture, things will start to go downhill. However, as long as you keep your open culture at the heart of everything that the company does, you will continue to see positive change.

How do you create a culture of trust in your company? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

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