Trust in the Workplace: Ways for Managers to Build Trust With Employees

Nataša Mlađenović
Nataša Mlađenović
Oct 05, 20229 minute read

What makes a great manager? I'm sure there are many answers to this question, but one quality that is essential for any good manager is trust.

Trust is defined as "a firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something" - doesn't that just sound like the perfect description of what we want in our managers?

Unfortunately, trust is not always easy to come by, and the lack of trust can be destructive to both the manager-employee relationship and the overall working environment. So how can we increase trust with managers?

trust in the workplace

In this article, we'll take a look at research on the subject, explore some of the reasons why trust is important, and offer some suggestions on how your company can increase trust with management.

Why Is Trust Important in the Workplace?

Everyone probably has an intuitive feeling about why trust is important - both in general and in the workplace - but let's take a step back and look at some of the research that's been done on the topic.

The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report found that 32% of people have either left or want to leave their current job because they don't have trust in their leadership's competence.

In their Special Report “Trust in the Workplace", 69% of people said that, after friends and family, the workplace is the most important source of community and social support in their lives.

So it's not just that we want to trust our managers - though that is important - but also that the workplace itself is a hugely important part of our lives and one that we rely on for both support and satisfaction.

Management Needs to Do More

Most leaders actually understand the stakes. In its 2016 global CEO survey, PwC reported that 55% of CEOs think that a lack of trust is a threat to their organization’s growth.

But that's just a bit over half, which means that many CEOs still don't see trust as the critical issue that it is.

The other thing is that, even out of those who realize the importance of the issue, most have done little actually to address it. In the same survey, only 26% of CEOs said they were very confident in their ability to build trust within their organizations.

So there is clearly a disconnect between what leaders think and what they're doing when it comes to trust. And that's where we need to focus our efforts if we want to increase trust in the workplace.

The Benefits of Trust in the Workplace

There is more to trust than just a good feeling—there is hard data that backs up the importance of trust in the workplace.

  1. Advocacy - 82% of employees who trust their employers would recommend their products or services to others, but only 35% of those who don't trust their employers would do the same.

  2. Engagement - 78% of employees that trusted their employers were more engaged and felt proud of their organization and support its societal initiatives. That's twice as many as those who don't trust their employers.

  3. Loyalty - 80% of employees who trusted their employers said they want to stay working for this organization for many years, compared to 36% of employees who don't trust their employers.

  4. Commitment - 83% felt motivated to perform at their best and do more than what’s expected to help them succeed, compared to the 45% who didn’t trust their employer.

So in short: employees in high-trust organizations are more productive, have more energy at work, collaborate better with their colleagues, and stay with their employers longer than people working at low-trust companies.

They also report lower stress levels and fewer health problems. Not to mention that they're also more likely to recommend their company to others, and less likely to look for a new job.

The two Types of Trust in the Workplace

Trust itself is a complex and multi-dimensional concept, but for the purposes of this discussion, we can think of it as falling into two broad categories:

Cognitive Trust

Cognitive trust is the trust that comes from having confidence in someone's ability to do their job. It's based on things like competence, expertise, and experience.

This type of trust is linked to task-oriented behaviors (i.e., directing, task monitoring, structuring, and informing) and the belief that these behaviors will lead to successful task outcomes.

Affective Trust

Affective trust is the trust that comes from feeling positive emotions towards someone or feeling confident in their character. It's based on things like benevolence, integrity, and intention.

Affective trust is linked to relationship-oriented behaviors (i.e., visioning, intellectual stimulation, individualized consideration, and providing positive feedback) and the belief that these behaviors will lead to positive social outcomes.

Which One Is More Important?

In short: both.

A study by Lena Jacoub of the University of Twente concluded that leader effectiveness had a stronger relationship with cognitive trust than with affective trust, but the focus there was visioning and intellectual stimulation.

Those, however, are not the only aspects of leader behavior.

Another factor to consider is that each employee is an individual and will therefore have different needs.

An ambitious person might require high levels of cognitive trust in order to respect their leader, whilst another might require high levels of affective trust in order to feel motivated.

The important thing is that leaders need to be aware of the different types of trust and how they can foster both within their organizations.

How Can You Increase Trust With Your Management?

Increasing trust is not something that can be forced, nor will it happen overnight. It's a slow and gradual process that requires patience and consistency.

That said, there are certain things that leaders can do to help build both types of trust within their organizations. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Open and Transparent Communication

This one seems a bit on the nose, but in order to build trust, it's important to create an open and transparent workplace. Leaders should share information freely and openly, without withholding anything.

This doesn't mean that leaders need to share everything about the company with their employees (that would be naïve), but they should create an environment where employees feel comfortable asking questions and voicing concerns.

It can also be helpful to share information about personal goals and objectives with the team. This will help them to understand the thinking behind decisions and help build a trusting relationship.

But keep in mind that communication is a two-way street, and in order for trust to be built, team members need to feel like they can openly communicate with you as well.

Being comfortable voicing their opinion (even when it’s different from their manager’s) and management always telling employees the truth were amongst the top 8 drivers of trust according to Edelman's logistical regression analysis.

2. Earn Their Trust by Giving Them Yours

This is again something that sounds simple but can be incredibly effective. Leaders need to trust their team members in order for team members to trust them.

According to Edelman's study, when employees do not feel trusted by their CEO, they distrust their workplace and its management.

71% of employees said they feel like their management trusts them and out of those, 92% said they trust their manager in return. Out of the 29% of employees that said they do not feel like their CEO trusts them, 43% said that they trust their manager.

So, if you want your team to trust you, start by trusting them. Delegate tasks and give them the space to work independently. Show faith in their abilities and let them know that you believe in them.

3. Recognition of Excellence and Achievements

When team members feel like their hard work is being recognized and appreciated, it goes a long way in building trust.

However, research shows that it's not only important to recognize achievement, but also to do so in a way that is meaningful to the team member.

Neuroscience shows that recognition has the largest effect on trust when it occurs immediately after a goal has been met, when it comes from peers, and when it’s tangible, unexpected, personal, and public.

What that means is that recognition should not be left to chance. Instead, leaders should be having a system in place to ensure that team members are being recognized in a way that is meaningful to them.

4. Granting Autonomy

One of the best things leaders can do to build trust is to give their team members autonomy. This means allowing them to make decisions and take action without constant supervision.

Being trusted to figure things out is a big motivator: A 2014 Citigroup and LinkedIn survey found that nearly half of employees would give up a 20% raise for greater control over how they work.

The freedom to decide and act will increase employee engagement, morale, and overall productivity as well as help to build trust.

5. Building Relationships

At work, we often get the message that we should focus on completing tasks, not on making friends, especially if we're talking about management. Managers tend to have a harder time building relationships with their team members because they're in a position of power.

However, research shows that building relationships is one of the most important things leaders can do to build trust. A Google study found that managers who “express interest in and concern for team members’ success and personal well-being” outperform others.

Building relationships doesn't mean that you have to be best buds with your team members. But it does mean taking the time to get to know them as people, not just as employees. It means being interested in their lives and their work, and showing that you care about them as individuals.

When team members feel like their leader is interested in them as a person, they will be more likely to trust and respect them.

6. Letting Down Your Guards

It can be scary to let down your guard at work, but it's important to remember that we're all human beings. We all make mistakes, and we all have weaknesses. When leaders are open about their mistakes and weaknesses, it shows that they're just like everyone else.

Jim Whitehurst, CEO of open-source software maker Red Hat, has said, “I found that being very open about the things I did not know actually had the opposite effect than I would have thought. It helped me build credibility.”

It also shows that they're willing to trust their team members enough to share this information with them. And when team members see that their leader is willing to trust them, they will be more likely to trust the leader in return.

In Conclusion

Building trust takes time and effort, but it's worth it.

When team members trust their leader, they're more engaged, productive, and motivated. They're also more likely to stick around, which is good for both the team and the organization as a whole.

As Paul J. Zak put it: Ultimately, you cultivate trust by setting a clear direction, giving people what they need to see it through, and getting out of their way.

It's not about being lenient or permissive; it's about having faith in your team members and giving them the autonomy to do their jobs. When you do that, they will trust you—and they will reward you with their loyalty, hard work, and dedication.

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