Trust in the Workplace

Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.
Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Taking a sociological perspective, Barbara Misztal explains in her book Trust in Modern Societies that trust has three social implications: 1) it makes social life more predictable; 2) it creates a sense of community; and, 3) it allows people to work together. Without trust, social interactions are unpredictable, community building is thwarted, and people are unable to collaborate effectively.

Businesses aggressively strive to establish trust with their customers but frequently neglect the need to cultivate trust in their workplaces. In their myopia, they create hostile work environments with a ‘me versus you’ mentality, where employees feel the constant need to watch their backs. In this space, loyalty, creativity, and innovation are sure to die.

Trust Begets Trust

The most effective teams have trust in each other, trust in their leaders, and trust in their organization.

Economist John Helliwell researched the determinants of workplace happiness and found that trust is the greatest contributor, beating out pay, workload, or perks. A one-point increase on the trust scale can mean the equivalent of the psychological benefits associated with a 40% wage increase. When employees trust their managers, they tend to be happier. The pay off for managers? More productivity, less turnover, less absenteeism. And when employees are satisfied, customers tend to be happy too.

Southwest Airlines proudly takes the higher road with its employees. Under the wings of the late founder and former chairman Herb Kelleher, Southwest thrived in an industry notorious for low employee morale and lousy customer service. He professed, “The only way that you ever get people to respond with trust and fidelity is to treat them as if you trust them and believe they will be faithful … You have to give everyone the opportunity to show their best qualities.”

Other great brands, like the educative financial information provider The Motley Fools, expect that their employees will put their best qualities forward. The Motley Fools has a flexible vacation policy that allows employees to take whatever time off they need, as long as they get their work done. They not only give employees the freedom and flexibility to choose their work schedules, but they also send a powerful message of trust. In fact, The Motley Fools proclaim, “Just do your job and do it well. We trust you.”

When companies like The Motley Fools and Southwest Airlines embrace the B-values of truth and honesty, they nurture workplaces empowered by higher principles. Trusted employees pay it forward through first-rate customer service.

It’s not enough to create trust with your customers; you must cultivate the feeling of trust from within your organization. As a leader, the best way to get your people to trust you is to be clear on what you want, believe in them, let them lead, and help them get better. An organization built on trust deepens relationships and develops a company culture where people feel safe, have a clear purpose, and have a strong sense of belonging.

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