Culture of Trust

Building a Culture of Trust in your Workplace

Trust is a key factor in building an engaged and productive workplace. Employees are more willing to follow leaders they trust and believe in and in times of change a track record of trust between employees and managers can help an organisation weather the storm.

Trust comes from the top down and is evident in every aspect of manager’s relationship with employees, from the smallest daily details right through to the overarching decisions which affect an organisation’s growth and development.

The good news is trust pays off and organisations with a strong culture of trust enjoy greater productivity and staff engagement along with lower staff attrition rates, they are also more confident in their ability to retain key employees. The 2009 Building Trust in Business study showed that organisations with high self assessed levels of trust, collaboration and leadership capability had a premium in their stock’s price/earnings ratio of more than 25 per cent.

The Building in Trust study identified a number of drivers to explain why employees in an organisation trust their colleagues:

Past Behavior: If you’ve behaved as expected in the past, I trust you to behave that way in the future. In this case “past performance” may very well predict “future returns.”

Capability: We trust people based on our perception of their capability, so I trust my doctor to treat my illness because of her training.

Alignment: If you and I are trying to achieve a common goal, I’ll trust you to do your part. Soldiers trust each other with their lives, because they are pursuing a shared goal. The tricky thing about trust is it takes time and commitment and is not the sort of workplace attribute you can acquire through a training course (though team building activities can help!).

According to HR Expert Susan M Heathfield there are ten things organisations can do to build employee trust in a workplace environment.

  • Hire and promote people, who are capable of forming positive, trusting interpersonal relationships with the people who report to them, to supervisory positions. The supervisor’s relationship with reporting employees is the fundamental building block of trust.
  • Develop the skills of all employees, and especially those of current supervisors and people desiring promotion, in interpersonal relationship building and effective interpersonal skills.
  • Keep staff members truthfully informed. Provide as much information as you can comfortably divulge as soon as possible in any situation. 
  • Expect supervisors to act with integrity and keep commitments. If you cannot keep a commitment, explain what is happening in the situation without delay. Current behavior and actions are perceived by employees as the basis for predicting future behavior. Supervisors who act as if they are worthy of trust will more likely be followed with fewer complaints.
  • Confront hard issues in a timely fashion. If an employee has excessive absences or spends work time unproductively, it is important to confront the employee about these issues. Other employees will watch and trust you more.
  • Protect the interest of all employees in a work group. Do not talk about absent employees, nor allow others to place blame, call names, or point fingers. Employees learn to trust when they know that their names are not being taken in vain.
  • Display competence in supervisory and other work tasks. Know what you are talking about, and if you don’t know — admit it. Nothing builds trust more effectively than a manager saying that he doesn’t know and will find out so that everyone is informed. The worst reaction occurs when a manager pretends to know and offers faulty information. Employees forgive a lack of knowledge – they never forgive a liar.
  • Listen with respect and full attention. Exhibit empathy and sensitivity to the needs of staff members. Trust grows out of the belief that you understand and can relate.
  • Take thoughtful risks to improve service and products for the customer. When you demonstrate that risk-taking is promoted, you demonstrate that employees may do the same – especially if there are no consequences when a thoughtfully considered risk goes awry. When consequences for risk taking don’t occur, trust is cemented.
  • If you are a supervisor or a team member, set high expectations and act as if you believe staff members are capable of living up to them. This trust and support will draw forth your employees’ best efforts and their trust in return.


This Better Workplace Bulletin was first published in November 2015