We live in an age of fast and furious information flow where transparency and, in some cases, over-sharing have become a social norm. It therefore stands to reason that employees will expect trust and openness at work in the same way they expect equal, adult relationships. Hopefully it’s been quite a while since you heard that awful phrase ‘mushroom management’ (where people are kept in the dark and fed sh*t), though, sadly, some organisations still have a long way to go when it comes to creating, maintaining and growing trust.
Harvard’s global survey on the ambiguous state of employee trust stated that workplace trust is currently at an all-time low, with 58% of employees saying they’d trust a stranger more than their manager. Given the prevailing state of national and international political mistrust, it’s never been more important to help people feel safe and secure by actively addressing workplace trust.
Feeling safe and secure is a basic human motivation and should be a strong component of a healthy workplace culture. High trust organisations are more productive, innovative and culturally healthy with better team dynamics and collaboration, higher levels of employee engagement and retention, stronger employee advocacy and loyalty, lower stress, and therefore better mental wellbeing. And Harvard researcher and neuroeconomics expert, Paul J Zak, has done some interesting work on the neurological connection between trust, leadership and organisational performance. Over two decades of research, he’s discovered that “compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies report 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction with their lives, and 40% less burnout.”
Executing any sort of change, which has become a given in today’s VUCA climate, is significantly harder within a culture of mistrust. According to an article in Entrepreneur, it‘s no longer possible to lead effectively without trust. Similarly Forbes attests that ‘Trust is the New Core of Leadership’. This starts at the top – senior leaders must model the right behaviours and ensure that they become the norm throughout the organisation.
As with any change or improvement process, we’d always recommend you start by measuring where you’re at now. The easiest way to do this is via a simple pulse survey – check out our fab new one here. This, for example, could quickly collate responses to the multiple choice question ‘How would you rate the level of trust here?’. You could repeat periodically to track progress – that way it becomes more about tangible outputs with less emphasis on the inputs or ‘box-ticking’. Next, check out our 10 Top Tips for improving trust in the workplace:
- Transparency: Make information readily available for people to find as and when they need it. Be honest about the status quo with clear, direct, consistent messages is the way to go. If this isn’t happening you may need a communications Be very clear about what’s expected and give credit where it’s due.
- Deliver: Do what you say you will. Role model the right behaviours. If you mess up, admit it and if the goalposts change, tell people in good time explaining the why what and how of the alternative strategy/tactics/actions. It shouldn’t have to be said, though fobbing people off to placate them is a really terrible idea.
- Respect: Be reasonable and approachable. Listen and consider others’ points of view, nurturing your people to be successful and enjoy what they do. The ability to ask for support, and receive it, without judgement, is key.
- Consistency: Have the courage of your convictions. Mixed and ever-changing messages coupled with a disparity of approach towards individuals creates a sense of unfairness and a lack of confidence in you as leader and in the business overall. Be authentic and genuine.
- Approachability: Create an open, mature approach to giving and receiving feedback/feed forward. Be prepared to challenge and be challenged in an assertive, emotionally intelligent Well-managed conflict is often a road to innovation.
- Accountability: Be clear about who’s responsible for what, encouraging ownership, enabling and empowering teams and individuals to achieve. Avoid ‘the blame culture’ at all costs. If things don’t deliver, review and revise.
- Freedom: People work best when they have a say about the work they do and how they do it. A framework will be required to ensure that expectations and any limitations are clear. Plus a clear method of setting goals and reviewing personal progress.
- Human focus: This is a biggie and will need a robust approach; it’s time for organisations to understand and embrace their responsibility towards becoming ‘good citizens’, aligning shareholder obligations with those of all stakeholders including its people, customers, supply partners and the community. This approach can build widespread trust – hurrah!
- Networks: It’s important that teams can bond and learn to create trust. However, doing this through team building activities alone is not going to cut it. Encouraging workplace connections (e.g. digital comms tools, shadowing, secondments job-swaps, project teams and so on) on an on-going basis is far more powerful.
- Flexibility: Most people are looking to improve their work life balance and many organisations are already ‘on it’. However there are many more who lack trust in their employees; this needs to be addressed.
Trust can be broken in a moment and will take far longer to regain which is why addressing workplace trust issues is often consigned to the ‘too difficult pile’. That’s no longer good enough. If you could use some support, we’d be happy to help.