Building Trust

According to findings in the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer, 63% of employees DO NOT trust their organizational leaders.  In 2018, EY’s global study on trust in the workplace found that less than half of respondents had a “great deal of trust” in their employers, boss, or colleagues.

Is this lack of trust something that should keep organizational leaders awake at night?  The answer is a resounding YES.

Companies that trust their employees enable their managers to focus more time on productively completing their own tasks (rather than micromanaging subordinates).  In order to effectively work independently, there must be a common goal that requires collaborative effort — and trust is necessary for open collaboration.

When employees feel trusted by their managers, they tend to be more productive and are more confident in providing honest feedback as well as identifying potential areas of improvement.  When a culture of trust exists, the result is a more confident, energetic, and productive workforce (CIPHR, 2015).

But how is “trust” defined and measured in the workplace?

Trust is built when managers do what they say they are going to do.  It can be incrementally built over time through the use of empathetic language and communication in routine workplace interaction.  By empathizing with the experiences of a colleague or subordinate, managers provide evidence that they understand what the employee is going through.  This allays  fears, reinforces their importance to the organization, and empowers them to become more engaged.

Safety + Belonging + Mattering = Trust.  

How much more effective, innovative, and happy would your workforce be if mutual trust permeated all aspects of your business?

What About Trust During Organizational Change?  

Resistance is a natural part of organizational change — but it may be less likely to occur when change leaders and change targets trust that they are working toward a win-win outcome.  Although organizations can only survive through the people working within them, the “people” aspect of change initiatives is often woefully overlooked or mismanaged.

When everything is changing, it can take a toll on the levels of organizational trust.

No one would deny that change can be risky.  According to recent research, there is a close inverse relationship between trust and risk.  In other words, the high risk of transformational change will be viewed with less trust — but low risk requests will be met with greater trust.

In order to successfully change,
employees must trust that their organizational leaders
ARE focused on mutually beneficial outcomes.  

Without trust, workers will be wary and fearful.  Because humans are wired to seek security, the tumultuous trickle down effects of organizational change will be viewed as highly risky.  Even though many answers relating to the implementation and outcomes of the changes may be unknown, wise change leaders share the knowledge that they have.  This reinforces the transparency of their actions and sustains employee trust.

During organizational change, unanswered questions will breed fear in the workforce.  This lowers engagement as employees seek to find proof that their security will not be jeopardized.  But if the workforce is rife with disengagement, then it is almost certain that workplace trust has disintegrated.

The only way that employees will feel sufficiently comfortable to share their professional fears, aspirations, and concerns about the proposed changes is if they believe that they will be listened to and supported (not chided or ridiculed).  A manager’s level of vulnerability will usually be reciprocated by subordinates to create a trusting work environment.

Leaders become role models for trust in both their actions and their words.  Some estimate that 50-70% of the overall emotional state of the organization is determined by its leaders.  In other words, what you say and how you say it are critical in nurturing workplace trust.

Is Your Company Trusting and Trustworthy?  

Trust results from a mutually beneficial emotional commitment that can take years to build…but only moments to lose.  It is a determinative factor in an employee’s decision to stay with an employer.  It is the framework through which we interpret each other’s words and actions.  And it is the foundation upon which organizational change can be implemented and sustained.

While the challenge to build greater workplace trust can be daunting, we can begin with a simple checklist to evaluate the current level of organizational trust.  Each of the following questions reflects dimensions of your culture, managers, and leaders.

  1. Do you encourage employees to make their opinions known — and do you take these insights into consideration during problem solving and decision making?
  2. Are managers unafraid to demonstrate their concern for the well-being of their staff — viewing them as whole people with emotions, desires, and fears?
  3. Do managers provide the necessary resources and support that are requested by their employees?
  4. When employees ask questions, are they answered honestly and in detail — even if the employee asking the question is not a manager?
  5. Is participative management used when making important decisions as to how a project is to be completed — and are employees given autonomy in initiating those actions?
  6. If there is “bad news,” do you share information  even if all the necessary facts are yet known?
  7. Are stakeholders involved in developing strategy to face challenges?
  8. Do managers encourage subordinates to stop by without an appointment in order to resolve problems quickly?
  9. Are our managers’ doors open (literally)?
  10. Do managers take an active role in guiding the careers and promotions of their subordinates?

The level of workplace trust is an accurate measurement of the current and future health of your organization.  The hard, conscientious, continuous work necessary to build and sustain it will be repaid manifold through higher levels of employee engagement, creativity, collaboration, and commitment.

“Trust is like blood pressure.
It’s silent, vital to good health, and if abused it can be deadly.”
Frank Sonnenberg, author of Follow Your Conscience

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on eradicating workplace burnout through the B-DOC Model.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, keynote speaker, author, blogger, business coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” by watching her TEDx Talk on YouTube.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.