(Article by Dr. Laura Hamill originally appeared in Forbes)
Every good leader knows that a culture of trust is crucial to success. What isn’t as widely understood is how to foster it. The secret? A simple but undervalued concept: care. According to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer: Employee Experience report, 78% of customers say that “how a company treats its employees is one of the best indicators of its level of trustworthiness.” But time and time again, organizations fall short on components of care, like positive communication, accountability, transparency, decision-making and more.
Why Trust Matters
Trust is a cornerstone of work relationships and a key component of organizational effectiveness. It’s rooted in one’s expectations of and vulnerability to the actions of one another. It’s also a fundamental requirement in creating a great place to work. When employees don’t feel like they’re a part of something bigger, have a sense of purpose or that they truly matter, that’s when you’ll run into issues. Trust includes reciprocal expectations of dependability, honesty, integrity, support, loyalty, respect and ultimately care between people. And let’s not forget it’s a two-way street between an organization and an employee — while employees trust the organization to do the right thing, the organization must trust its employees to do the same.
Employers are a person’s most trusted institution, which also directly impacts employee engagement. ADP Research Institute’s 19-country Global Study of Engagement found that “employees who trust their team leader are 12 times more likely to be fully engaged in their work.” In return, organizations must have trust in their employees to get their day-to-day work done, but they must also trust in who the employees are both in and out of work. To truly build a culture of trust you must move beyond tactics to think bigger — and focus on care.
Here are four ways to build trust in your organization through care:
1. Communicate regularly.
You can’t have trust without communication. It’s that simple. Teams who know their goals, tasks and greater purpose, and who have stronger relationships and awareness of others, are more likely to cooperate with each other. To get to that point as a team, it requires both informal and formal communication such as regular team check-ins, messaging or stopping by co-workers’ desks to chat about work-related and non-work-related topics. These forms of frequent, positive communication are the building blocks of relationships that show your employees you not only care, but you’re listening and acting, which ultimately leads to trust.
At Limeade, we encourage this type of communication, especially between managers and employees. Some of our employees are highly engaged but at risk for burnout because we’re a growth organization — fast-moving and high-pressure with a lot of opportunities. In order to tackle burnout, we’re focused on opening the discussion of what burnout is, how managers can support recovery and what work we can do as a company to reduce stress that causes burnout. Being honest and transparent is the first step.
2. Maintain moral standards.
Ethical leader behaviors also help to increase trust among peers. What defines an ethical leader? Someone who demonstrates moral and fair behaviors and decision-making. This ties back to communication — leaders must communicate ethical standards to employees and include why certain decisions are made. And they have to be held to those standards themselves and hold other employees to those standards as well. Maintaining these moral standards is crucial to instilling trust in employees.
3. Avoid punitive people programs.
Have you ever worked for a company where you felt like just a number? Or worse, a health risk? Most employers don’t mean to make their people feel this way, but punitive HR technology can destroy trust with the click of a mouse. For example, avoid well-being programs that penalize employees for smoking or increasing their BMI. Instead, empower them to focus on the areas of well-being that matter to them — maybe it’s mental health, or getting their finances in order. It’s all connected, and improving in one area can lead to improvements in others. The real incentive of these programs should be the feeling of improvement at work and in life.
For platforms that have social elements like commenting and chat, you might feel compelled to monitor for negativity or workplace policy compliance. But these approaches send a bold message of “I don’t trust you.” Look for ways to track for blatant misuse, but give your employees the benefit of the doubt. They will notice, and the trust will follow.
4. Create norms of trust.
Organizations can create norms and cultures of trust by weaving care into the daily interactions of their employees. Trust-building opportunities can come in many forms, such as providing spaces and events for employees to develop interpersonal relationships, advocating and acting on inclusive practices, providing flexibility in when and where work happens or incorporating policies and procedures that include employees in organizational decision-making. When trust and positive social exchanges are encouraged, it then becomes an expectation and a norm among employees.
Within organizations, trust is a steadfast belief that individuals, managers and leaders are transparent with, care for and value one another. Before you jump to conclusions on how to enhance trust in your organization, take a step back and think about the concept of trust first. In what cases is trust working for your organization or against? Are you authentically demonstrating care for employees? Be mindful of your rollout plan and make it more than an intention, but a standard at your company.