Employee trust is an elusive – but essential – part of leadership. In a 2015 survey, 55 per cent of employees cited trust with senior management as very important to job satisfaction. However, 35 per cent of employees don’t have that trust, according to the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer.
And lack of employee trust is a problem for more than just job satisfaction. An employee that doesn’t trust management is less likely to be fully engaged in their job or do their best work. They’re also less likely to come to their boss with ideas or feedback that could positively impact productivity or the bottom line. An employee without trust will also be more worried about their job security, and will, in turn, be constantly keeping an eye out for new opportunities outside the company.
There are many reasons that management can lose employee trust. Unpredictable behavior or poor communication can be at fault, or a single act (the firing of an employee, a change in management) can have a critical impact. Even if management doesn’t think that there’s a trust issue among staff, it can be hiding under the surface, impacting productivity, and increasing turnover.
So how do you go about gaining – or regaining – employee trust? Rebecca Heaslip is an executive coach, management consultant, speaker, and author. She is also the founder of Leadership Insight, a Toronto company that helps businesses “create enriched work environments that inspire leaders and motivate staff.” She has over 15 years of experience helping leaders can gain the trust of the individuals they are leading.
Here are Heaslip’s five tips for building employee trust:
1. Put in the time
Yes, meetings can eat up a lot of the day. But one-on-one meetings with your team members can help to ensure that each employee feels valued. These meetings are not meant to talk about performance and tasks. Instead, ask about employee’s passions, goals, and career path. Time is a valuable commodity in the workplace, but building bridges with these conversations will benefit the team in a number of ways.
2. Be a role model
Employees look to their managers to see how they should behave. Everything from the condition of your car and to your punctuality sends a message to your staff about what you value and what is important to the company. In particular, take a close look at your own communication strategy and behaviour: what message are you sending to your staff? Get – and keep – a positive attitude, and be sure that your language and communication aligns. “No problem,” for example, is not positive, but “with pleasure” or “happy to help” sets an encouraging and optimistic tone.
3. Improve your emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence means a lot of things. When it comes to management, it can mean empathy and showing you care about your staff in ways that are individually meaningful to each person. One employee, for example, might want to be asked about their kids, while another will appreciate being asked about a course they’re taking after work. Be understanding about sick family members, children’s activities and vacations – remember that the people within your company are what make up your company. The bottom line is not always top priority.
4. Deliver critical feedback in private
Public shaming never works. Ever. Feedback should be about the problem, not about the individual. When addressing an issue, take emotion out of the delivery and stick to the facts of the matter. Discuss how the employee’s actions impacted the team or project, and keep an open mind as to their intentions. Your goal should be starting a larger discussion with the employee; use phrasing like, “I noticed” rather “you did this” to avoid anger or defensiveness.
5. Follow through
Do what you say you’re going to do, or don’t promise it in the first place. If you drop the ball, admit it, apologize, explain what happened and rectify it – but don’t make it a habit. No matter how nice you are and how many times you beg for forgiveness, you can’t continuously break promises and make mistakes with employees. It not only betrays their trust; it teaches them that this is appropriate behaviour.
Low trust or a lack of trust destroys employee initiative, engagement, and morale. However, once a deep trust is established, performance and engagement can reach new heights.