Trust: The New Workplace Currency

How to get it and why it matters.

The Other Side of Workplace Trust

Do you trust your employees?

When "only 10% of employees trust management to make the right decisions in times of uncertainty," that's a business challenge. Lost trust triggers diminished employee engagement, tames discretionary efforts, and reduces innovation. It hits your bottom-line, too.

So, if you're asking how to build or rebuild trust at work, here are a few tips for improving your trust building odds.

However, there's another question you should be asking. We know the impact when employees don't trust their bosses, but what happens when bosses don't trust their employees? Or, when management actions give employees that perception?

What's the message when companies use GPS tracking on employee phones to check if they're where they say they are? Or software to locate employee internet posts, or demonstrate untrusting beliefs like these:

As an employee, if you believe you're trusted or you believe you aren't, does it matter? The answer is yes. Trust, or the perceived sense of trust or not trust, impacts behavior.

I witnessed that recently on vacation. In line to pay for a purchase, I listened as a cashier called the store owner to get permission to ring a $1.87 refund for the customer in front of me. Telling the waiting customer she had to call so she wouldn't be "written-up" for not getting permission, the clerk demonstrated to a packed store not only how distrusting her boss was, but her growing contempt for the job.

But anecdotes aren't enough. How about the data?

Two British Columbia professors, Sabrina Salamon and Sandra Robinson, discovered, "When employees in an organization perceive they are trusted by management, increases in the presence of responsibility norms, as well as in the sales performance and customer service performance of the organization, are observed."

Their study involving 88 retail stores found: "In stores where employees felt trusted, they were more likely to rise to managers' expectations and perform better in terms of sales and customer service."

When people perceive managers trusts them,

what these researchers call, "collective felt trust," it changes behavior for the better. Booker T. Washington put it this way. "Few things help an individual more than to place responsibility upon him, and to let him know that you trust him."

Workplace trust is about relationships. By definition, trust as a relationship builder means there's more than one side to it. If you're only concerned with whether employees trust their bosses where you work, it's time to look at the other side of the equation. How much do bosses trust employees?

What trust impressions are you giving? Consider:

  1. Are you managing to the 90-95 percent of employees who do a good job, are responsible, and trustworthy, or are you focused on the few who aren't?
  2. What messages about trust, or lack of it, do your policies, procedures, and work culture communicate to employees?
  3. What expectations are impacting trust building in your workplace? Since we often get what we expect from others, what are you expecting?

Workplace trust can transform an ordinary, everyday, okay place to work, into an environment where people are almost unstoppable. High levels of relationship trust unleashes creativity, commitment, and enthusiasm. It brings out the energy and talents of individuals, builds teams, and enables results.

But, here's the key - you won't get trust unless you give it. Giving trust is a choice 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. Want more trust at work? Start it.

 

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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