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How to Build Trust at Work.

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Regardless of whether you’re the CEO of a company or the newest member of a team, a mutually shared sense of trust is absolutely vital for workplace productivity. Trust is a two-way street, after all. In the words of Jim Dougherty, a senior lecturer at MIT and long-time software CEO: ‘Managers will never learn the truth about a company unless they have employees’ trust.’

This Top 10 comes as a bonus to our recent two-part series on trust in the workplace. You’ve read about the effects a lack of trust can have on employee productivity and wellbeing. Today we have some top tips answering the questions ‘how to increase trust at work?’ and ‘how to improve employee productivity at my company?’

1: Be willing to trust others

This might seem obvious, but it’s important, especially if you’re a manager. One of the most effective methods of leadership is to lead by example. If you can’t trust your staff, you’ll feel pressured to micromanage them, which is far from ideal. That way lies madness.

Showing trust in your co-workers is an important step in getting them to do so in return. It is a highly effective way to enhance employee engagement. Employees in trusting work environment report feeling 76% more engaged than employees in workplaces where trust was an issue, according to PwC.

2: Don’t be afraid to communicate

One study has shown that 69% managers feel uncomfortable communicating with their employees, with over a third saying they are uncomfortable giving critical feedback due to fear of a negative reaction. But communicating with employees is vital. Firstly, it is important to stay in tune with the needs of your staff, whether it’s in terms of mental health, professional advancement, or balancing work and their personal lives. NYU carried out a research into feedback and found that although it causes significant stress, giving feedback, either written or verbally, frequently reduced the amount of stress significantly and reduced a number of biological reactions, such as lowering the heartbeat and reducing perspiration.

Secondly, a manager should communicate with their teams in terms of the business. Being transparent with staff and letting them see how the impact their work is having is a great way to foster trust in the workplace. The use of “smart objectives” (goals which are updated as part of regular check-ins) can be extremely beneficial for making your staff feel like a team. An example of these smart goals is Weekly10’s Objectives & Key Results (OKR) goal tracking feature, which give employees oversight on the key projects they and their peers are working on, whilst also attaching context and meaning to the work they are being asked to do.

3: Give and seek effective feedback

We like to spend a lot of time slating old-fashioned annual performance reviews on this blog, but with good reason. Nobody likes them, not employees or managers. The feedback isn’t timely enough to be effective, and everyone spends the time between appraisals dreading the next one.

But a modern, streamlined system for giving and receiving effective feedback has the potential to massively benefit trust in the workplace. Weekly10’s habit-forming employee check-in turns the frustrating, drawn-out process of setting up an old-fashioned annual performance review meeting into something that can be done digitally in just a few minutes each week.

The weekly check-in feature means that employees have regular opportunities to give and receive feedback and raise issues with their manager, rather than letting them fester until the next annual review. Critical evaluations can be kept confidential, and ensure that feedback is given at the point when it’s relevant, while accomplishments can be hyped up for everyone to see using the “mentions” feature. While feedback can be kept between an employee and their manager, the questions on Weekly10 are not anonymous, unlike traditional workplace surveys. This helps encourage an atmosphere of honesty, where employees can speak their mind.

4: Minimise office politics

We say “minimise” because interpersonal relationships are a difficult, complex thing. Anybody who’s ever seen an episode of Big Brother can tell you that if you stick a group of people in a room together for long enough, there will inevitably be friction. This can be especially true in competitive work environments like sales teams, where the idea of “getting ahead” is more tangibly ingrained into the workplace culture. Besides, you can’t spend forty hours a week with someone and not end up forming some kind of opinion about them.

Complaining about co-workers can be therapeutic, especially if they’ve given you a good reason to. But it’s probably best you vent to someone who isn’t involved in your work life unless you want word to travel. It’s also especially important for managers not to get bogged down by office politics, as bosses who succumb to favouritism will end up alienating their employees not just from themselves, but from each other as well.

In the last point, we briefly touched upon how an effective and appropriately confidential feedback system benefits workplace trust. Cutting through office politics is one way in which this can have a positive effect. Gossip has the potential to be really damaging to workplace productivity, as well as trust. In smaller teams, it can result in the alienation of individuals, but in larger organisations, deep-running office politics can even cause cliques to form.  But this can be reined in by giving staff the room to air their grievances privately as part of regular performance evaluation practice.

5: Emphasise a good work/life balance

Workplace culture can be home to many aspects that can shake an employee’s trust and threaten their loyalty to the business. A study in 2018 found that 75% of working parents are left feeling stressed and anxious as a result of struggling to balance work and their personal lives, and more than half felt judged by their colleagues.

Employees who feel judged are more likely to exhibit presenteeism or make up excuses for their absences. It’s hard to trust an employee who you think might be faking illness, just as it’s also difficult to trust a boss or co-worker who seems to have total disregard for your wellbeing.

6: Be reliable

This tip is more about earning personal trust than about the office as a whole. If you have a responsibility, carry it out. If you say you’ll do something, get it done. If you get a reputation for not keeping your word, everything you say will become essentially meaningless.

With that in mind, it’s important to be realistic when setting and presenting objectives and targets. If you bite off more than you can chew, you’ll inevitably fall short of people’s expectations. Be honest about how long things are going to take, and always follow through on commitments.

7: When you’re wrong or don’t know something, admit it

Some workplace cultures can lead to perfectionism. People are often hesitant to admit to not knowing something, especially if it relates to their job, for fear of being seen as incompetent. But the consequences of failing to admit to being wrong, or of pretending to know more than you do can be much more damaging to people’s trust for you in the long run. Being honest about this allows co-workers to function more collaboratively, compensate for each other’s weaknesses, and be more open with each other without fear of judgement.

This is also particularly important for managers for similar reasons, as leadership roles often come with a sense of assumed infallibility. Poor management is a huge contributor to staff turnover. Many managers oversee teams of individuals with specialist knowledge, and it’s important to be able to defer to that knowledge when necessary.

Imposter syndrome is surprisingly common in professional work environments, from the entry-level staff to upper-management. Most of us have, at some point, questioned whether we are really right for the job, or whether we’ve just managed to unwittingly bluff our way into being given positions of corporate responsibility. Creating an environment where people can admit fallibility is vital for overcoming this issue, by doing away with the unspoken expectation of machine-like perfection.

8: Try not to be dismissive

Nothing evaporates your feelings of trust and loyalty towards someone faster than realising that they’re just going to ignore anything you say. When one person on a team won’t listen to anyone else, the breakdown in communication is inevitable.

Making your staff feel involved with the company is a major aspect of employee engagement. On top of that, people suffer greater stress at work when they feel a lack of control over how they do their job. Listening to people’s ideas is a great way to give them a sense of having a personal stake in the business while also being a vital source of fresh perspective.

9: Don’t play the blame game

It’s the nature of the world that things go wrong. While people do sometimes screw up, oftentimes it’s just how the cards fall. Being quick to assign blame is a sure-fire route to sowing seeds of hostility around the office.

When a department fails to meet its projected targets, for example, it’s usually not the fault of any one individual. But when we’re all partially to blame for something, it can be tempting to turn it into a percentage game. Being able to take collective responsibility for something as a team is vital to trust in the workplace.

10: Remember that we’re all only human

For our final tip on building trust in the workplace, remember that ‘pobody’s nerfect’. Mistakes are par the course, and the best solution is to work collaboratively to minimise them. Sometimes a little bit of understanding goes a long way. But similarly, if you find yourself in a work environment where you struggle to trust your colleagues, don’t judge yourself too harshly for that. Trust is an important element of workplace culture, but one with no shortcuts, that can only be developed over time with the proper work put in.

That’s all for our guide to building trust in the workplace. If you haven’t already, check out Part 1 and Part 2 of our series on the causes of workplace distrust, and if you think your business could benefit from an employee check-in process that fosters a culture of trust, then why not book a demo with Weekly10 today?

Research Associate