workplace trustApproximately half of your employees think you’re not being open and upfront with them, according to a recent study conducted by the American Psychological Association. In an environment where mistrust abounds, how can we operate our businesses in a way that rises above these troubling issues?

How HR can help

One activity that human resources has always been fond of is policy creation. There is a time when policy formulation needs to occur, but it also needs to take into account common sense and organizational culture. It all comes back to trust — do you trust your people to do great work, treat customers well, and support their team?

Too often we build policies with the minority in mind. Instead of creating rules around the 5% of people who will abuse our trust, we need to start looking at the 95% of people who will be inspired by our trust.

Give your people trust and autonomy and they will reward you with engagement. Withhold trust from your people and they will withhold trust from others, creating a downward spiral of negative, toxic behaviors.

Building a Culture of Trust

Recently I was listening to a podcast about an organization that put the principles above into practice. The leadership focused on giving the employees freedom to do their work, and the employees responded with new ideas, additional effort, and a sense of ownership over the business results.

That, my friends, is a culture of trust.

Employees need to see these characteristics displayed by everyone in the organization, but this especially applies to members of the leadership team. Talk is cheap, and actions speak louder than words.

I know what you’re thinking–what happens if we have someone who abuses that trust? Let’s look at one of the best ways to correct that issue.

Empowering Employees

Developing an intentional culture of trust is similar to gardening. When weeds begin to flourish, the answer is not to wipe out all nearby vegetation. The solution is careful weeding to take care of the specific offenders.

A few years ago I was at an event listening to the speaker talk about what had led to his organization being named on a local “best company” list for several years in a row. He said something to start his presentation that I will never forget.

You don’t create a “Best Place to Work,” you defend it.

That was such a powerful statement. You can develop a workplace that people really want to join, but in order to have a noteworthy organization for the long term you need to create a mindset that it is everyone’s job to protect the culture from harm. A great way to make that happen is by enabling employees to seek out those “weeds” and apply pressure to either get in line or get out. You should find willing participants, especially if the current employees have already begun reaping the benefits of a culture of trust (greater autonomy, less micromanagement, etc.) Here’s a hint: if your employees are willing to fight for you, then you’re probably on the right track.

Instead of managers or HR having that role tacked onto their list of duties, make it the job of every single employee to ensure that a culture of trust prevails. Together, we can fight the mistrust that has invaded our work environments and spread a powerful culture of trust.

  • What sort of trust issues are your employees facing?
  • How can you help shift the workplace toward a culture of trust?
  • What authority or autonomy can you give employees to protect the trust they have been offered?

Ben EubanksAssociate HCM AnalystBrandon Hall Group

Ben Eubanks

Ben Eubanks, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is an HR professional and industry influencer. His experience working as a leader in the human resources field has provided him with a broad range of experience encompassing smaller organizations, government contracting firms, and the nonprofit sector. He has hands-on experience with various HR disciplines, including recruiting, benefits, employee relations, and compensation.

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