According to the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer report, almost a third of employees don’t trust their employer. That’s a big chunk of the workforce, and its impact can’t be ignored. Employees with low trust are typically skeptical, disengaged, and less productive. So what can you do as a leader to build trust with your employees?
We recently examined the topic of trust in the workplace. It can take on two forms: reliability and love (or faith). The first version of trust is about accountability. It’s about knowing that you can count on others to get the job done. The second version of trust is about being much more than a well-oiled machine. It’s what makes a team more than a multiplication of individuals. It embraces the emotional components of human behaviour and potential.
Good leaders can achieve the mechanical form of trust; great leaders can relate to and elevate the emotional aspects of humans at work. But this isn’t always easy in practice. There are many forces that make it hard to build trust including conflicting priorities, different personalities, and a lack of broad recognition or understanding of the importance of trust.
However, as a leader, you can choose to make trust a priority in your team and wider workplace. Understanding the form of trust you’re aiming to build, and then setting out to achieve it, starts with you. We’ve distilled five tips from Edelman’s trust report to help you get started:
- Focus on more than profits. Leaders should talk less about the bottom-line and more about positive long term impacts for employees. Topics such as job creation, skill development, and career pathways demonstrate a commitment to employee growth. 80% of respondents to the Trust Barometer believe that CEOs should be personally involved in discussing societal issues. Use every opportunity to have meaningful conversations and place broader employee and societal issues on your agenda.
- Be open and honest. Credibility is an important leadership trait for building trust. In the Edelman survey, respondents indicated that peers and other employees were more credible than leaders in their organization. Overcome this by being open and honest in all aspects of your words, attitude, and behaviour. Honesty ranked as the most desirable character trait of trustworthy leaders in the survey.
- Be highly ethical. Closely related to credibility is ethical behaviour. Survey respondents were asked if ethical behaviour demonstrates integrity. Of those who agreed with this statement, more than half felt their leaders didn’t actually act in an ethical way. Have integrity and conduct yourself in a way that sets a high standard for ethical behaviour to earn the trust of those around you.
- Live your values. 80% of respondents to Edelman’s survey believe that understanding a leader’s personal values are an important part of building trust. Find ways to authentically demonstrate your values. This is one way to connect at an emotional level with others in your workplace. It doesn’t mean making yourself vulnerable, rather it’s about sharing information about who you are. It also helps build credibility if you behave in a way consistent with those values.
- Elevate the voice of employees. Trust is a two-way street. You must extend trust in order to gain trust. Results of the survey indicate that employees are often the most trusted advocates to speak on issues related to the business, finance, operations, and staff matters. Extend trust by finding every opportunity to add or expand channels of communication to give those important advocates a voice. Make employee storytelling easy by introducing a digital tool with simple publishing and search capabilities.
Organizations that have high levels of trust have high levels of employee commitment, advocacy, and retention. They have a highly functioning culture and robust employee engagement. An organization with leaders who build trust has a strength, resilience, and quality of work that becomes a powerful competitive advantage. If you want employees who strive, who’re engaged, and who’re improving both themselves and your business, having trust is essential. As a leader, you have the power to make this happen.