“The trust of the people in the leaders reflects the confidence of the leaders in the people.” —Paulo Freire, 20th century philosopher, writer, and educational advocate
Trust is most easily defined as reliance on another person’s integrity. Psychologically, the need for trust arises from our interdependence with others. The presence of trust implies respect, cooperation, and honesty. But it also implies risk. Trust is abstract and intangible. It can be very fragile, and once lost, it is not easily reestablished.
When we spend the majority of our time at work, it is imperative that we trust those around us. And yet, most of us have probably worked in jobs where trust either had never been established or was completely lost during the course of our employment. When trust deteriorates, low morale becomes widespread, employees become less engaged, and turnover increases dramatically.
Since the propensity to trust varies from one person to the next, what are the most common components needed to create a high-trust work environment, and what are the benefits of ensuring trust exists?
5 Components of a High-Trust Environment
1. Transparent Communication. As you may have guessed, transparent communication is the first and most important ingredient for creating a more human workplace based on mutual trust and respect. This means providing a platform for a back-and-forth exchange of dialogue and ideas. It also means being honest and not withholding information. If there’s something you can’t share or do, you should simply let the employee know.
When employees feel well-informed, and that they have an avenue for honest feedback, they will have confidence in their leaders. Cultivating trust through open dialogue creates an immediate platform for employee engagement. When employees are fully engaged, they are more inspired to contribute above-and-beyond effort. In fact, a 2013 report released by Gallup verified that employee engagement has strong correlations to performance outcomes, including increases of 22% in profitability and 21% in productivity.
2. Valued Input. Encourage employees and team members to share ideas. When you welcome varying points of view, you may uncover constructive solutions that otherwise would not have been discovered. Employees whose ideas are valued will feel empowered to think creatively, and will want to be involved in team and company processes. When employees feel they have a voice, and that their voice is heard and valued, they are more likely to contribute to their team and the company. Their work has purpose and meaning, and becomes more than just a job.
3. Confidence in Others. As Friere states, employee trust is a direct reflection of your confidence in their abilities. Show employees you trust their ideas and experience. Micromanaging or controlling employees can stifle creativity and productivity. When employees feel you can rely on them, they will take pride in what they do. They will be empowered to take initiative and work beyond their job parameters. According to a 2012 SHRM report, “Almost one-half (48%) of employees stated that autonomy and independence were very important job satisfaction factors.”
Empowered employees will make decisions, take action, and accomplish goals with minimal supervision. This enables them to work more efficiently and leads to a flourishing work environment, higher morale, decreased stress, less illness, and less risk for employees to seek other employment.
4. Accountability. We’re all human, and we all make mistakes. It’s important when mistakes happen that we are accountable for them. When a manager or employee recognizes an error they’ve made and apologies or corrects the mistake, they demonstrate responsibility, rather than blame. Being accountable also goes beyond just taking responsibility for what went wrong. It also means recognizing when an employee has gone above and beyond and appreciating their extra efforts.
Sincere, consistent recognition makes employees want to repeat desired behaviors and increases productivity. It lets them know their leaders see how much effort they’re putting into their job and that those efforts mean something to the company. In fact, studies conducted by Towers Watson show that companies with recognition programs where trust is strong have a 91% employee engagement rate.
5. Consistent Action. If transparent communication is the most important component of building trust, consistent action is the integral piece that holds the rest together. If you want employees to trust you, you must consistently demonstrate honesty and integrity in your speech and actions. This also means treating everyone equitably and not playing favorites. When a leader is perceived as fair and honest, they will also be perceived as trustworthy.
Establishing a high-trust work environment leads to increased engagement, constructive problem solving, informed action, mutual respect, and employee empowerment. Once a high-trust environment has been created, keeping it sustainable means constantly practicing and utilizing the five components listed above.
Actively cultivating the human phenomenon of trust not only builds harmony at work, it also helps us infuse all of our interactions with coworkers, friends, family, and even strangers, with integrity and respect. When all of our personal interactions are held to this standard, we will enjoy an overall improved quality of life.