Trust: The New Workplace Currency

How to get it and why it matters.

Building Trust in a Skeptical Era

Three trust building basics in an era of distrust.

We live in a world where it's hard to differentiate a real photograph from one created by computer wizardry, and advertising language has complicated even the simple choice of beverage size, so it's no wonder people find it hard to trust the messages. Internet hoaxes, greed and misdeeds of organizational leaders, steroid taking athletes, lying and manipulation in politics fill blogs, headlines, and tweets, so it's no wonder it's hard to trust the messengers.

This, at a time when our economy continues to struggle, employee engagement is down, job satisfaction is low, and Towers Watson's 2010 Global Workforce Study identifies trustworthiness as the top quality people want in their leaders.

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This is the reality in many workplaces: discretionary efforts are tamed, ideas are shelved in heads, and interest in work has waned. Today's intellectual property and initiative are competitive necessities leaders can't buy with just a paycheck. They need the new workplace currency.

But let's be honest about the challenge. Trust is not just about them in corporate or political America, it's also about us in everyday America. Consider these representative examples:

  • In a survey for 71 percent of participants admitted to lying about money or keeping money secrets
  • In a Reader's Digest Survey, 63 percent of employees admitted calling out sick when they weren't

Reduced trust impacts relationships, bottom-lines, innovative solutions, cooperative endeavors, and well-being. So, how do you build trust at work in an era of distrust and growing cynicism? What is work trust anyway? And most importantly, how do you get it? Here are trust building basics:

1. What people often think is trust, is not - Most of us think we know what trust is and isn't. But trust is one of the most misunderstood words at work, resulting in perceptions of broken promises and trampled expectations. Ask five friends, and you'll likely get five definitions. People mean different things when they use the word, often interchangeable with words like "reliable" or "predictable" or "trustworthy." Trust as the new workplace currency is about authentic trust. And, authentic trust comes from authentic people.

2. Authentic trust builds relationships - Only when there's a commitment to the relationship is authentic trust built. When the relationship is more important than any single outcome, when reciprocity is central to support and exchange, and when mutual commitments are delivered without concern for personal advantage or attempted manipulation or control, trust grows.

3. Trust begins with trust - Contrary to popular belief, you don't get trust because you earn it; you get it because you give it. In this context, text is a verb. It's an action you take. Giving trust is a choice, a decision, or a judgment you make when you put confidence in or rely on someone else. Trust begins by giving trust, just like love begins by loving, respect by respecting others, and communication by sharing information.

Despite discouraging statistics, surveys, and sounds bites heralding distrust in these challenging times, hope comes from science. Scientists at Emory University have discovered that, " the small, brave act of cooperating with another person, of choosing trust over cynicism, generosity over selfishness, makes the brain light up with quiet joy."


Nan S. Russell is a workplace expert with real-world experience, and the author of Hitting Your Stride: Your Work, Your Way.


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