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How to Gain Trust in the Workplace

Who can you trust? Technology is being widely adopted to drive workplace efficiency and innovation. Yet, recent studies show that the impact of automation is a decline in trust. In this article, we discuss why trust is essential to business success and what leaders can do to ensure it remains a core value.

Do Employees Trust Managers?

In 2023, the Index of Leadership Trust* recorded the lowest levels of trust in line managers in the 5 years that the survey has been conducted. Inconsistency in decision-making was one of the many areas identified as the cause of the trust deficit.

Then, in January, the latest Edelman Trust Barometer** was published. This indicates a lack of trust in company leaders, global powers and the media to act in the public’s best interest. The report suggests a general view that society is changing too quickly and not in ways that benefit the individual. Distrust was highest in employees within the lower income bands who feel that managers and politicians are disproportionately paid and driven by greed.

What’s more, there are concerns that the rapid pace of innovation means that new solutions are not properly managed or sufficiently evaluated by experts. Equally, the research, reasons and recommendations are not widely shared. In short, it’s a sense that things are happening to us, rather than us having any say, control or choice.

Does Trust Matter in the Workplace?

In every work environment, productivity is the buzzword. We want to increase output to remain competitive and maximise investments. So, with promises of streamlined processes, it is no wonder that technology is embraced. However, there is also a strong correlation between trust and productivity. Yet, trustworthiness isn’t a skill that is actively sought out in leaders and it is difficult to quantify, so all too often it is skimmed over.

In a workplace without trust, employees will do what they are legally and contractually obliged to do and little else. What’s more, to protect their interests, they will keep ideas, information and resources to themselves. Conversations are guarded and the focus is on getting to the end of the shift.

In contrast, a work culture built on trust sees employees willing to contribute their skills, strengths, time and energy to group success. The attitude and behaviours are collaborative, motivated and considerably more productive. People are willing to speak up and branch out because they are confident in taking risks and know their views count.

Managers V Leaders: It’s a Matter of Trust

Trust is the difference between a manager and a leader. As a manager, your role and responsibilities have been agreed with the organisation. You may head up a team, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you lead them.

In contrast, a leader may not officially hold a management position. However, they have established a relationship with the team. They engage, include and inspire. Others trust them because they consistently demonstrate integrity, competency and genuine interest in the people around them.

Leaders empower others. They notice each individual’s strengths and achievements, they challenge and develop talent and they are open to involving the team and keeping them informed. They are reliable and fair; a person trusted to turn to for expert advice, problem solving and support.

How to Create Trust in the Workplace

Trust is dependent on strong leaders and an inclusive work culture. It takes time to establish and can be easy to lose. It is such a valuable component in business success, so it is worth the effort.

Listen to Understand

An important aspect of building trust is spending time listening to your employees. What are their motivations, their skills and their underutilised talents? What are their perspectives, values and preferred ways of working? This insight is invaluable in having meaningful conversations, engaging employees in shared goals and delegating responsibilities.

Involve the Team in Decisions

Equally important is collaboration. You have organisational goals, but how do you get team members to buy into them? Firstly, share the desired outcome and invite suggestions on how this could be achieved. Explore ideas and encourage questions and developments. Thank people for what they bring to the table and put their ideas into action.

Trust your Team

Another point is that trust is mutual. Your role as a leader is to empower, not micro-manage. You have to believe that people will meet your expectations. So, get ready to relinquish control and accept that there are some things that they can do better than you.

The trust of the people in the leaders reflects the trust of the leaders in the people” – Paulo Freire

If individuals take advantage of a more hands-off approach, their behaviour and attitude have to be promptly addressed. They need to be held to account. This is a significant factor in maintaining both motivation and trust in a leader with the rest of the team.

Be Authentic

People do not expect leaders to be perfect, but they want them to be honest, so break down the façade and be authentic. For example, you can:

  • Admit mistakes and accept the mistakes of others, then focus energy on resolving them
  • Direct people to alternative sources when you don’t have the answer
  • Acknowledge that multiple perspectives offer options that you hadn’t considered

If the leader is authentic, it creates a culture of psychological safety, which drives job satisfaction, staff retention and low absenteeism.

Invest in Trust

When employees trust the organisation and leaders they are working for, they are likely to be self-motivated, collaborate with colleagues, contribute and embrace challenges. This drives productivity as much as the latest technology. For this reason, I believe businesses need to invest in leadership skills and building trust as much in digital advances.

Contact Sue Garner to discuss your training needs 



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