As mentioned in the previous article, regarding how we can destroy trust at work, I have written about trust in business, government, and families several times because I believe we have made it disposable or temporary at best. In the 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer, they cite the top 10 issues facing the workplace today, and many of the issues discussed here are embedded in their list. Employees are looking for a change and may or may not be willing to wait until they see definitive action.
Restoring trust at work is a critical process that requires time, patience, and consistency. Trust is the foundation of any strong relationship, including those at work. Typically, building trust is most straightforward when starting the organization, so the culture has adapted to the vibe of trust and communication. However, if you need to restore trust after it has been ruptured, pay particular attention to these points and commit to living them, not just giving them lip service.
Here are ten strategies that can help rebuild and strengthen trust within the workplace:
1. Encourage Open and Honest Communication
Consistently demonstrate and encourage open lines of communication where employees can speak openly about their concerns, ideas, and feelings. Leaders should be transparent about decision-making processes, changes, and company challenges. While it may seem simplistic, an essential part of building this type of culture requires that everyone listen and then speak.
Too often today, many are listening to respond or rebut rather than listening to understand another point of view or a different approach. The former will always cause conflict, so train leadership to listen well.
2. Acknowledge Mistakes & Learn
Leadership must own up to their mistakes and take responsibility. Acknowledging errors and outlining plans to prevent them show integrity and a commitment to improvement. They must also empower other stakeholders to address their mistakes, take responsibility, and learn from them. If the culture has become a constant blame game, then other corrective actions must be taken before this can be implemented. Be sure to reward the learning, not the mistakes.
3. Reward Consistent Behavior
Consistency in actions, policies, and communication builds predictability building trust. Ensure that rules apply equally to everyone and that management models the behavior expected from the rest of the staff. Someone in the organization must be a watchdog over consistency so people know it is a priority.
While I encourage this to be the HR department, they must be redirected from compliance and enforcement to monitoring and reporting regardless of level. Inconsistencies should be corrected by the individual once the topic is raised and visible.
4. Rebuild Relationships
Spend time with team members to understand their concerns, aspirations, and viewpoints. Personal connections can help rebuild trust and remind employees they are valued team members. You don’t have to be drinking buddies or weekend travelers.
Provide respect and communication from one human to another. Leave the egos and titles at the door to ensure transparency during these exercises. Yes, it is that simple.
5. Follow Through on Promises
I believe this is one of the most critical improvements any leader or stakeholder can make in life and career. Make commitments carefully and ensure you can deliver on them. Following through on promises is crucial in regaining lost credibility. If you commit to something, strive to meet that promise.
Suppose you miscalculated and need to address some issues. Do it as soon as possible and accept responsibility for the error but learn from it and determine it will not be repeated.
6. Generate a Fair Environment
It is critical to ensure that all employees are treated equally and that there’s a fair system of recognition and rewards that is transparent and understandable to all employees.
Making it complex and unintelligible will cause the people to lose trust and think something else is happening that will not benefit them. This is one of the areas where the leaders may have to examine their own biases to see if they are getting in the way of providing equality and support. If they find a bias is in place, then it is up to them to figure out how to minimize the impact on the company.
7. Encourage Participation
I defy any leader to stare me in the eye and say that people are unnecessary for the company’s success. In my experience, it is critical to understand that happy, involved employees make for satisfied customers.
No CEO can have all the answers regarding day-to-day operations. It is mandatory to involve employees in decision-making processes where appropriate. This inclusion will make them feel respected and valued, fostering a sense of ownership and trust in the organization.
8. Provide Support and Resources
Provide the necessary support and resources for employees to do their jobs effectively. Empower them with training, time, and trust to make decisions within their roles.
When leaders face challenging decisions in making changes that affect employees, the affected employees must feel supported and understood by leadership otherwise the change will be difficult.
Likewise, employees need to understand the nature of the issue and why the changes are necessary, so like any trust environment, it is a two-way street.
For example, when faced with terminating a product line or service, before you lay people off, work to find alternatives for them before making the changes.
Layoffs may seem the only route, but this usually means the leaders have not taken the time to be creative or communicate with employees to seek potential alternatives. Resist the stockholders if they are pushing for a downsizing unless leadership has been remiss in estimating needs.
9. Protect Confidentiality
Respect and protect the confidentiality of your employees. It sends a powerful message about your respect for them and the business’s ethical operation. Companies should not have to be regulated to provide this process.
It really should be common sense. However, in the name of profit, many shortcuts are taken that don’t necessarily provide the necessary protection or respect. That is a shame on management, not the employees.
10. Promote a Positive Workplace Culture
Cultivate a workplace culture that promotes kindness, respect, and understanding. Celebrate successes together and support one another during challenging times. The celebrations don’t have to be expensive, nor must they always be grandiose.
However, they must be sincere, respectful, and consistent. If all the employees hear is criticism or negative feedback, they will be less engaged, ultimately affecting customer relations and profit.
The choice is simple, but is leadership willing to be open and transparent in providing a psychologically safe environment where employees are enriched, rewarded, and respected?
Finally, restoring trust takes significant effort, commitment, planning, and time. It doesn’t happen overnight. It requires both leadership and employees to communicate, respect, and ensure both are listening and taking action on the needs of the other.
If you are building a new organization, it can forge a more trusting and collaborative work environment by implementing these steps at the beginning and without much pain and suffering.
However, if restoration is necessary, these same ten steps can help rebuild the foundation, but only if everyone is at the table and willing to make it work.