How to Build a Culture of Trust in the Workplace
Companies are struggling with employee retention, and a lack of employees can easily cause a business to fail. In June of 2021, the number of job openings skyrocketed to over 10 million. This was driven by a 2.7% increase in the number of employees who called it quits. Nearly 4 million people quit their jobs in a single month.
The high quit rate coincided with the post-pandemic “turnover tsunami” forecasted by HR professionals and researchers. The turnover tidal wave projection, based on a survey by Achievers Workforce Institute, was drastic: after the pandemic was over, about 50% of workers planned to find new jobs. Here are some reasons why workers want to quit:
- 46% of respondents said they don’t feel connected to their employers;
- 42% were dissatisfied with company culture;
- Only 21% of respondents were engaged at work.
Pandemic or no pandemic, employers tend to struggle with culture, employee engagement, and establishing the human connection their employees crave.
Ultimately, your employees need to trust that your company has their best interests in mind. They need to trust that you care about them as human beings. In this article, you’ll learn how to create a culture of trust that lends itself to optimal employee engagement and retention.
Why Is Trust So Important in the Workplace?
Trust is vital in the workplace because it’s the glue that binds people together. Businesses are miniature representations of society. According to BioMedCentral, interpersonal trust “refers to the extent to which a person ascribes credibility to other people and expects positive outcomes in the context of social interactions.”
In an economic context, this expectation of positive outcomes leads to a better economic outlook. When it comes to the relationship between trust and gross domestic product (GDP), the data shows that countries with a higher percentage of people who trust each other have higher GDPs per capita. In other words, if you cultivate trust in the workplace, your employees are more likely to be engaged and productive. Let’s take a look at why this is the case.
The Psychology of Trust
Researchers have discovered a psychological mechanism behind trust. A study in the science journal Nature showed that the neuropeptide oxytocin increases the amount of trust people have in each other. The researchers noted that “oxytocin specifically affects an individual’s willingness to accept social risks arising through interpersonal interactions.” They also noted that trust is essential to “economic exchange” and business partnerships.
Oxytocin is directly tied to stress. When people are stressed, they don’t produce oxytocin — and vice versa. This ties directly into the primary reason people cited for quitting their jobs after the pandemic. They were suffering from burnout, from stress overload. When employees feel burned out due to stress and other factors, their trust in their employer breaks down.
Since this is the case, it’s essential that you cultivate trust in the workplace. The livelihood of your business depends upon it.
Tips for Creating a Culture of Trust in Your Business
To improve trust in the workplace, start by analyzing the pillars of your organization. Every decision your business makes comes down to your values.
Create Core Values to Guide Your Decisions
Core values are the fundamental principles by which a company operates. Your core values should emphasize the ethical priorities of your business — the social responsibility you intend to uphold. Employees need to know you care about people. They also need to know that ethical imperatives drive your corporate decisions.
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is linked to competitive advantage, so it’s wise to consider using tenets of CSR to inform your core values.
Create a list of your core values. Share this list with your staff and when you’re onboarding new employees. Be honest about what you value. Then, show your employees you mean what you say. Use principles to steer your internal and external decisions. If necessary, update the list as your company continues evolving.
Maximize Transparency & Communication
Open communication and transparency are the hallmarks of a trusting relationship. Just as you’re leveling with employees about what your company values, communicate with them about processes and decisions. Solicit their feedback whenever possible. Measures their engagement through surveys and ask their opinion about important topics.
Facilitate open communication in your business by encouraging conversation. To do this, you’ll need to use a platform such as Slack or Microsoft Teams. If you have a remote workforce, use Zoom and Google Meet for video calls so everyone can see each other’s faces.
That said, don’t overwhelm your workers by making all meetings mandatory. The key to communication is to strike a balance. You don’t want to bombard your employees with info — nor do you want to leave them in the dark.
Minimize Stress by Managing Expectations
When employees know what to expect, they’re not stressed by uncertainty. Establishing clear expectations for your employees goes hand in hand with maintaining open communication.
One easy way to do this is to use project management software such as Asana or Monday.com. Employees can get a clear view of all the tasks at hand, deadlines, timelines, and to-dos. Another easy solution is to use scheduling software that lets them know exactly what their schedule looks like each week.
Make sure employees know they’re not expected to work more than a certain number of hours each week. Moreover, let them know you expect them to clock their brains out of work when they clock off.
To minimize stress on the job, consider building a backup plan if an employee won’t be able to meet a deadline. Let them know they can expect to get help when they need it. This will enable them to communicate problems they’re having and empower them to complete tasks as a team.
When you feel empathy for your employees, you show them you care about them on a human level. This is about imagining what it would be like to do their job day in and day out. What would it feel like to be them? What are the emotional highs, lows, and in-betweens your employees experience in the course of their jobs?
The more time you spend cultivating compassion for your employees, the more respect you have for each individual. In turn, they learn to trust you. To increase your level of empathy, consider taking some extra time to do the same tasks your employees do.
Then, talk with them about the details, the ins-and-outs of what they do. Share your pain points and ask them to share theirs. Moreover, dedicate your efforts to making their jobs easier — you’d appreciate it if someone were to do the same for you.
Micromanaging is the thorn in the side of trust. When leaders micromanage their employees, they demonstrate a lack of trust in those employees. This trickles down to employees, who aren’t likely to trust each others’ abilities when they see leaders micromanaging them.
Trust your employees can do their jobs and do them well. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have hired them.
Be Consistent & Follow Through on Your Promises
Consistency helps employees thrive. When you consistently focus on what your employees do well, you encourage them to do well. When you consistently follow your core values to the letter, you show your company is dependable.
Be on time with annual reviews every year. Always give raises and bonuses based on the expectations you’ve established. Set mandatory meeting times and don’t deviate from the schedule. Even your physical and emotional presentation to employees should also be consistent.
Most importantly, keep your promises. If you promised them a holiday party but it’s going to go over budget, consider reaching into your own pocket. Or, organize a fundraiser and get everyone involved. Do whatever it takes to show you’re dependable.
Supporting your employees creates a community of trust. They need benefits such as paid time off to help with their work-life balance and improve their financial position. If you give them benefits such as sick leave and health insurance, they know you support their wellbeing. Ultimately, this goes back to empathy.
During the pandemic, a lot of employees got burned out because they had to take care of their kids and work from home full time. Working families need support in the form of flexible schedules and accommodations for their situation. For example, if your employees are back in the office, provide a room where mothers can breastfeed their babies. If you have the facility for it, consider onsite childcare.
Flexibility doesn’t just improve corporate agility — it shows your employees you trust them to excel. Flexibility means you’ll allow employees to work from home and it can even mean letting them create their own schedule within certain parameters.
Employees with flexible schedules can focus on quality work and task completion instead of counting the hours until the workday is over. However, there’s even more to it than that. Flexibility might be just the ticket for retaining employees, even when it looks like they’re headed out the door.
After the pandemic, employers were scrambling as many employees planned on quitting. According to Brian Kropp, chief of research in the Gartner HR practice, “One thing you can do right now to minimize the risk of turnover is to be very clear about flexibility. And if you’re not offering flexibility, you’ll have a turnover problem.”
To be upfront about flexibility with your employees, establish clear expectations. Once employees know you trust them to work from home and show up at the office when necessary, they’re more likely to stick around.
Create a Rewards System & Prioritize Employee Mobility
Following through with rewards, raises, and promotion opportunities are key to building trust in your workplace. Some call it gamification, but whatever you want to call it, employees need to know they will be rewarded when they do a good job.
It’s helpful to think of it like a video game. If you’re playing a game and you complete a checkpoint, but you’re not allowed to move on, would you keep playing the game? It’s safe to assume you’d quit. Likewise, employees are more prone to quitting when their hard work goes unrewarded.
Prioritize Employee Mental Health
Employee mental health is perhaps the most important factor in a workplace culture of trust. Ninety percent of employees say stress negatively impacts their mental health and 60% of them say they’re not getting the help they need. Give them the help they need, and they’ll be able to trust that you care for their wellbeing.
Work-related stress is inevitable — but when workers have no way to relieve stress, and it keeps piling on, it becomes a problem. Dedicate your HR efforts to employee stress relief. Make sure their health insurance has options for telehealth counseling and in-person therapy. Provide an onsite gym if possible. Work regular breaks into employee schedules. Some businesses even have onsite counselors.
Most of all, follow the tips above by being supportive and building a system in which employees feel confident they can ask for help and receive it.