How to build trust at work and grow a better workplace culture
Updated 27th February 2022
Knowing how to build trust at work is absolutely vital for a sense of productivity. That's true whether you're e CEO or the newest member of a team. 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. Search engines like Google are constantly inundated with search terms like "how to increase trust at work?" and "how to improve employee productivity at my company?"
Fortunately, those are the questions we're here to answer today. So keep reading for our top 10 tips on how to build trust at work!
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 environments 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. Over a third saying they are uncomfortable giving critical feedback due to fear of a negative reaction. But communicating with employees is vital. Obviously, if you want to know how to build trust at work, you actually have to talk to your people.
Firstly, it is important to stay in tune with the needs of your staff. That includes terms of mental health, professional advancement, or balancing work and their personal lives. When employees are forced to bottle up their issues, it's inevitable that they'll burn out.
Secondly, a manager should communicate with their teams in terms of the business. Letting them see how the impact their work is having is a great way to foster trust in the workplace. That's the power of transparency in action.
Weekly10's goal-tracking options can be extremely beneficial for making your staff feel like a team.
A good example of objective tracking in action is Weekly10's Objectives & Key Results (OKR) goal tracking feature. OKRs give employees oversight on the key projects they and their peers are working on. It does this by attaching their tasks to larger company goals. This does away with the whole "does my work even matter?" dilemma some employees face.
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 what the modern workplace needs is a streamlined system for mutually exchanging feedback. Weekly10's habit-forming employee check-in is light-touch. Submitting or reviewing updates only takes minutes. This makes them so much more workable than bloated, outdated traditional performance reviews and engagement surveys.
The weekly check-in feature means that employees have regular opportunities to give and receive feedback. They can 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. But on the other hand, 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. That's another thing that separates them from traditional workplace surveys. You might think anonymity would be preferable. But doing thing this way 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. In places like these, the idea of "getting ahead" is more tangibly ingrained into the workplace culture. Besides, you can't work with someone for 40 hours a week without 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 to start burning bridges, that is.
It's also especially important for managers not to get bogged down by office politics. Bosses who succumb to favouritism will end up alienating their employees. And not just from themselves, but from each other as well. You'll never understand how to build trust at work if you just go alienating every staff member who isn't your mate.
We've already 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. However, you can reign this in by giving staff the room to air their grievances. Just make sure they do it 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. This stems from struggling to balance work and their personal lives. More than half of respondents 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. But 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. Consistency is one of the most important parts of how to build trust at work effectively.
If you have a responsibility, carry it out. Once you say you'll do something, get it done. And 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. This can lead to people on all levels of an organisation holding themselves to impossible standards. When it comes to how to build trust at work, sometimes, the best approach is just to admit that to fallibility.
People are often hesitant to admit to not knowing something. People fear being incompetent if they don't know something related to their job. But pretending to know more than you do will damage to people's trust for you in the long run.
Being honest about this allows co-workers to function more collaboratively. It's better to 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. 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. In those situations, 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. We wonder 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. Being able to be honest does 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, the lack of personal autonomy can significantly increase the stress people suffer at work. 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, don't judge yourself too harshly if you struggle to trust your colleagues. Trust is an important element of workplace culture. But it's 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 parts 1 and 2 (linked up top!) to understand both sides of the relationship. We're always adding new content about workplace culture, so be sure to check back with us!