The importance of trust in the workplace

This is a topic I have been wanting to cover for a while, but for which I needed to have enough distance with a specific event to write objectively.

Today I am coming from the position where trust in the workplace is a topic we are openly and actively discussing at the company. We talk about the impact lack of trust has on teams and individuals, how it affects our ability to do our jobs, and why we need more of it… Needless to say, I find it exceptional that we do so.

But regardless of whether your company tackles the topic head on, or pretends like there’s no problem, I think trust in the workplace is an extremely important topic to cover as it affects our wellbeing, and of course, our mental health.

What does trust mean in the context of work?

At work, trust exists on many different levels. For example, there can be trust between two employees, between an employee and their manager, trust in senior management, and the list goes on…

Individuals need to build trust between themselves, but companies should also work on creating an environment in which people feel they can trust each other. For example if a company was firing and hiring without any reason, or if there was poor communication around staff changes, this starts to erode the sense of trust employees may have in the company.

Companies also need to build an environment in which employees feel safe and that the company is looking out for their interests . In essence: we’re all part of one big team, and we’ve got each other’s backs. A company shouldn’t rate external factors (for example client satisfaction) as more important than employee satisfaction and wellbeing. Even reaching company objectives shouldn’t come at employees’ expense.

But it’s also about trust between colleagues. For example you trust them to get their job done, that they have a certain domain of expertise, or that they will deliver on their commitment. It’s trusting you can share a personal opinion or experience with them and that they won’t share it with anyone else.

Between managers and employees, it’s about trusting the employee knows how to get from A to B and the ability to delegate. The manager should trust that their direct report has the skillset and is independent enough to execute on the tasks that have been given to them.

Lastly, trust between teams and within a company means the ability to have open conversations. Telling someone how you really feel without the fear of being judged or of repercussions, being able to voice any concerns or doubts you may have, knowing you will be supported.

Building trust over time

The first thing to remember is that trust is built over time. It may seem obvious, but this occurred to me upon starting a new job: you can’t just expect or ask people to trust you from day one when they don’t know you.

Of course after spending several years at the same company, you will be used to people knowing your work. Your reputation precedes you and trust is established. You have shown over time that you can be trusted to deliver.

But when you start a new job, or move to a new department, you need to start over. Remember that people will need time to get to know you and your way of working. They will have to witness your strengths and probably work with you on a few projects before starting to trust you.

The same goes for you: unless you trust people easily, you will most likely need a bit (or a lot) of time before you get to know and fully trust your new colleagues.

What does it look like when someone trusts you?

As mentioned above, when someone trusts you in the workplace you have the feeling they will let you get on with your job, or that they feel they are in good hands working with you.

It’s sort of intangible to describe as a feeling, though hopefully most of you have experienced it. Essentially, it means you don’t feel as if someone is constantly checking in on you or you have to justify you every move.

What does it look like when there is no trust?

If there is no trust, you will feel stressed and most likely unsafe in the workplace. You might be micro-managed, or you might feel as if everything you do is watched and dissected, being asked to start over continuously because nothing is ever up to standards etc.

Between colleagues, lack of trust can be the result of unhealthy competition where the team spirit is completely drowned out in favour of individual success. This means no one can turn to each other for help or speak about a project, for fear of having it stolen.

Why we should foster trust in the workplace

Essentially trust contributes to our psychological safety at work: our ability to feel that we can get our jobs done without any major external disruptions. It also helps us feel more comfortable in our roles and in our companies, being able to build relationships with our colleagues and contribute to our sense of belonging.

A lack of trust no matter who it comes from, will have a serious impact on our overall job satisfaction and engagement. When it comes to mental health, lack of trust can have an impact on self-confidence, stress, and anxiety levels to name the most obvious ones. And of course, this can also contribute to burn-out or breakdowns. Not to mention, lack of trust creates a toxic work culture and will most likely result in high turnover.

We need to pay close attention to fostering trust in the workplace, supporting people in their roles and contributing to employee wellbeing.

For more inspiration on trust and how to build it, watch this TED Talk by Frances Frei, who used to work at Uber


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