How to Build Trust with Employees: The Workforce Institute Weigh-In

The Workforce Institute Weigh-In for October 2023: Trust is key to building a great workplace. What’s one way leaders can earn the trust of their employees?

“I am sure people are going to point out transparency, openness, demonstrating vulnerability. Another way to build trust is to exhibit trust in others. Being consistent is also important in building trust.” — Dr. Jarik Conrad, executive director, UKG Workforce Institute

“Sharing bad news or cases where you have made a mistake can be useful in building trust. You do need to be careful because this could also undermine your credibility. However, handled skillfully, this can be useful tactic.” — David Creelman, CEO, Creelman Research

“Be humble. No one is perfect, and no one has all the answers. Leaders should admit when mistakes are made and be willing to learn from them.” — Julie Develin, co-host, The People Purpose Podcast

“The famous Frances X. Frei of Harvard Business School fame created a simple construct to clearly describe the trust dynamic. Leaders must be empathetic, authentic, and logical. Empathy is important because it shows leaders want success for their employees. Authenticity means that they know, when they interact, they are getting the truth. Logic allows us to trust the judgement and decisions of our leaders. I was recently keynoting a conference and took a poll of 125 leaders. I asked which of the three qualities was the strongest among leaders today — 122 of them said logic. Today’s leaders are good at math and terrible at people. We need to actively work to fix this, as it will not fix itself.” — John Frehse, senior managing director, Ankura

“Honesty. It starts with the interview. Tell candidates what the job is really like. Yes, talk about the good parts, but if there are challenges, don’t be afraid to address them. During onboarding, managers should share what they expect from an employee in terms of performance. And if things change — because they do — managers should follow-up with the employee and say, ‘Hey, I know we discussed this, but the circumstances have changed. Let’s discuss.’ Managers don’t want people to be dishonest with them. Why should they expect it’s OK not to be honest with employees?” — Sharlyn Lauby, author, HR Bartender blog

“There seems to be two opposing general mindsets of leaders when thinking about trusting employees: 1) ‘My employees must first earn my trust before I will trust them,’ and 2) ‘I tend to trust my employees first, and I will keep trusting them until they show me through their actions that they are not deserving of my trust — and then they will lose my trust.’ There are other mindsets, although these seem to be the most common. One way leaders can earn the trust of employees is to start with mindset two, especially when you hire new employees, and even when the leader prefers to apply mindset one. And, in all cases, the leader must ensure they communicate clearly with their employees their core mindset related to trust. Even when leaders apply mindset one, frequent communications that are understood by the employee can lead to developing a trust-based relationship.” — Dennis Miller, associate vice president, HR and benefits administration, The Claremont Colleges

“The most important way for leaders to earn trust is through demonstrating integrity. Integrity for me is a three-part process where you 1) say what you’re going to do, 2) do what you say you’re going to do, and 3) let those affected know that you did what you said you were going to do. Because, when you act with openness, behave consistently, and keep your word, people know they can trust you and are more willing to follow your vision and directives. If a leader is new to a group where trust is low due to lapses or a lack of integrity by the current or prior leader, steps to rebuild trust will have to be intentionally made. This requires the leader to own prior missteps openly and to ask forgiveness from those who’ve been hurt or harmed by the leader’s failure, where appropriate. Then, the leader should outline how their behavior will be different in the future and how those following their vision and directives can help them in staying accountable to improvement. From that moment forward, the leader must act with integrity to ensure the group will begin trusting again.” — Sarah Morgan, director of equity and inclusion, Humareso