Here are 5 ways to reverse the trend

  • Less than half of the workforce has a “great deal of trust” in their current employer
  • Trust is something human beings need, at a physiological level
  • Building trust at your company or on your team will unlock greater performance

The expression “time is money” may not carry the same weight as it did in the past. Of course, time is still valuable. Today I would propose the phrase “trust is money” is now more applicable. Given the cultural and technological changes of the past decade, today’s business leaders need to apply a new focus on elevating trust in the workforce. Those who don’t will risk a substantial loss of customers, employees, and profitability. 

This epiphany came to me while reading a few interesting articles. Some pretty staggering research findings were presented, which I have summarized below.

  • As revealed by a 2016 survey of CEOs by PWC, 55% of business leaders believe a lack of trust in the workplace constitutes a foundational threat to their company (source)
  • People who trust each other make more money than those who don’t (source)
  • Less than half of global respondents to a recent survey have a “great deal of trust” in their current employers (46%), boss (49%) or team (49%) (source)

These findings are alarming. Less than half of our workforce has a great deal of trust in their peers or leadership! What are the implications of these findings?


A Look to our Evolutionary Past

It turns out that we as a human species really need to trust each other in order to live our lives, as programmed by our DNA. Across studies on mammals, from the smallest rodents all the way to us humans, the data suggests that we are profoundly shaped by our social environment. We suffer greatly when our social bonds are threatened or severed (source).

The things that cause us to feel great pain are those that are evolutionarily recognized as threats to our survival. Both physical and social separation from our peers is a very real pain. We need this connection - it is not a luxury (source). We are actually hard-wired to need trust in order to function based on who we are, both physiologically and mentally.

This has major consequences on how we need to think about structuring organizations. As one example, pay for performance is often the only incentive used to motivate employees. Praise and an environment with trust that is free from social threats can be just as powerful a motivator.  

The Steady Erosion of Trust in our Culture and Workforce

Several cultural transformations have occurred over the past decade. Each has put our need for trust at risk. The increasing use of social media as a communications channel has created an extraordinary sense of anonymity in relationships. In a world where people can be “ghosted” at any time, the result has been a loss of trust. This has transcended into the workplace.

A higher number of data breaches has also played a role. It is clear we can’t count on companies to do the right thing with our personal data. As one data point, in 2018 a total of 446.5 million records were exposed through 1,244 data breaches (source).

It isn’t only the cybercriminals that we have to worry about – as evidenced by the Facebook fiasco with Cambridge Analytics. And, the recent state of affairs with our political environment now has us questioning what news is real. It has become very difficult to know who and what to trust.

Now is the Time to Rebuild Trust

We as business and political leaders must put a new focus on rebuilding trust in our society. Greater transparency is needed. Only then can we begin to behave more rationally and make more informed decisions on what we as a global community need to address. 

As an example, several pending global environmental situations are building today. These will require significant collaboration to address and overcome in the next 20-30 years. If we want planet Earth to continue to support our growing population by providing sufficient food and water, a greater trust will be needed at a planetary scale in order to survive.   

In the interim, businesses can make a start by improving trust in the workforce.


5 Ways to Get Started

Here are five tips you can implement now to improve trust in your workplace, which will reward you and your team with greater employee satisfaction, performance and profitability:

  1. Avoid being a Micromanager – always asking for updates and progress on a task tells the message that you don’t trust your employee to act on their own.

  2. Give public praise – everyone needs to feel they are doing work that matters for people who care; not sharing any public recognition of work well done will appear as a lack of trust, suggesting that an employee is not doing their job well.

  3. Assign “stretch” task objectives – much can be said about trust in the way that new tasks are assigned. John Doerr’s book “Measure what Matters” provides a great explanation on the power of setting goals and being sure to include “stretch” ones as well. This practice communicates an expectation of trust that an employee can not only perform their core responsibilities, but in addition, can take on extra projects and can do so at a higher level of performance, building trust along the way.

  4. Be transparent – Good leaders are transparent and forthcoming about issues, concerns, organizational values, and top priorities. Try to avoid having an “inner circle” whereby some employees have more information than others. This will erode trust, cause numerous distractions and result in significant productivity declines.

  5. Offer remote working – one of the biggest workplace transformations of the past decade is the remote working revolution. Interestingly, there are still some employers that forbid anyone to work remotely and others that have reversed course. I suspect part of this reluctance is based on a perception that productivity will decline – a lack of trust that employees will do their jobs. Whether or not you work in an office or remotely or out in the field, trust is a cornerstone to ensure higher worker productivity is maintained. 

I am a firm believer that if you want to instil change, the first step is to identify a set of goals that must be done. Then, identify metrics to measure and assess progress. For example, with regards to remote working, tools exist today that can help managers better understand how to measure worker productivity – regardless of whether a worker is sitting in a cubicle at the corporate office, is at the airport waiting for a flight, or is teleworking from a remote location. 

Together, we can make a difference and rebuild trust back into our culture. This will be a wonderful accomplishment – one that the next generation will certainly be very grateful for our efforts.

Read These Next: