Developing a Trust Culture in the Workplace

Over the course of our working careers many of  us will experience different workplaces with different work cultures. Notwithstanding how the nature of work is changing our psychological needs in the workplace remain fairly consistent; we crave security and respect.

When we work for an organisation we all have some basic needs that need to be fulfilled. We want to  feel valued and appreciated, so that we have a genuine and sustainable sense of belonging to the organisation or entity for which we work. We want to know that our work is relevant. We need to  feel psychologically secure and we need to know that the work culture within the organisation supports us in that context.

Many of us know that work can give greater meaning to our lives by enhancing our sense of identity. Working for an organisation where we feel valued can inspire us and enhance our sense of belonging. It is therefore important that we feel we are trusted , that we can air our views and  that our opinions are valued.  It is equally important that we feel safe when airing our views, that we are not exposed to ridicule or disregarded or feel threatened. We should be able to communicate openly, to  express opinions and not feel vulnerable when doing so. We need to know that we can engage in a respectful exchange of views with colleagues.  In doing so, we may have productive disagreements and that is okay as long as our views are not thrashed by others.

The nature of work has significantly changed in recent years as we move towards tech-based economies. We may work remotely and we may also work in teams. In such circumstances, trust, reciprocity, and collaboration become even more significant. It is important therefore, that organisations with dispersed employees,  prioritise a high trust culture where all  feel part of a team, where the organisation is manifestly inclusive and engaging and where good levels of morale are maintained. Management needs to be proactive and vigilant so as to ensure that employees feel supported as they engage in their professional duties and that a culture of emotional security prevails.

When employees work in a trusting environment they work in a safer environment. Trust contributes to safety which, in turn, enhances and empowers individuals and teams while also increasing productivity. Leaders play a vital role in ensuring safety and emotional security in the workplace. They must lead by example by treating all employees with respect and by showing that all employees are valued and trusted, It is the leader who must apply the interpersonal rules of engagement by putting people before processes.

Interpersonal communication is a two way process which involves active listening as well as speaking. By asking others for opinions and by responding positively, a leader can set the tone for interpersonal behaviour.  Respect and trust for a  leader is most likely to be the generated when a leader promotes positivity instead of apportioning  blame, shows good listening skills, expresses appreciation and ensures that diversity is both appreciated and respected.

A trusting, working environment has significant benefits in terms of job satisfaction and enhanced productivity. Building team cohesion, which has trust and respect as integral values, provides many benefits such as enhanced team mindset, better collaboration and a greater sense of  inter-personal connection. Those who know they are valued and know that their contributions and views are respected will most likely have a greater sense of purpose and will more readily identify with the values, vision and goals of the organisation. They feel psychologically safe and secure.

Good leaders who know the benefits of having a psychologically safe and secure working environment will not be afraid to show their own vulnerability. When they fall short or error they will admit their mistakes. By doing so they are saying it is ok to make mistakes. Everyone, including leaders, can handle mistakes by owning up to them and by embracing the losses as well as the victories. Admitting mistakes is better than faking perfection.

In the workplace, where there is autonomy and flexibility, it is inevitable that there will be mistakes. Many leaders encourage and support innovative mindsets as integral elements of vibrant organisations where standing still is not a viable option. Innovation and risk-taking assume that mistakes will be part of the package. Both employees and management accept there can be imperfections and errors but  try to contain and limit them to acceptable levels. What is important, however, is that people should not live in fear of ridicule or fear of retribution because they make mistakes. That would be a real sign of an unhealthy organisation where people are psychologically unsafe, unfulfilled and undervalued.

Leaders should encourage and show that they value different perspectives while supporting acceptable levels of autonomy and flexibility. No-one has a monopoly of good ideas. Asking people to express their views and encouraging healthy debate is a sign of a healthy organisation. When employees are trusted they are empowered and their sense of security is enhanced. Growth and development will arise from employee recognition and when they are empowered to make decisions appropriate to their employment. Trust and emotional security provide not just psychological safety, but also  enhance employees’ job satisfaction and productivity.

Accordingly, respect, fairness and positive interaction should form part of the ethical standards of the organisation. The leader’s role is to be responsible for the organisation’s trust ethos. Every leader should assess their own trustworthiness by asking others for feedback. The leader must communicate as openly and transparently as possible and if commitments are made they should be followed through. The leader must always act in good faith, if trust is to be maintained. Consistency in action, transparency in communication and soundness in character are vital elements of  good leadership. Trust in leadership is undermined by inconsistent standards of behaviour and inconsistent messaging.

Every organisation has a dominant organisational culture which contributes to their  identity. The dominant culture is an expression of the common values and characteristics of the organisation. It is this dominant culture which gives an organisation its corporate personality. Trust and respect in both policy and practice  form the foundational principles of the best organisations. Such organisations always promote a people-first culture.

When trust and reciprocity are part of the culture of an organisation there is better morale because people feel respected and safe. In such circumstances productivity and teamwork are enhanced and there is enhanced commitment to goal realisation.  An open, trusting and respectful work environment, which prioritises employee welfare, will  inspire greater commitment to the values  of the organisation. People will always want to work for an organisation which values and respects them. Retention rates are improved as employees value the organisation which values them.

Trust is the glue which bonds people in common cause. Trust is the lubrication that makes it possible for organisations to work-Warren Bennis. It takes time for trust to grow but it can be shattered in seconds. When it does, the working environment deteriorates and employees’ sense of security is undermined.

Trust is the best medium to grow success because it builds confidence: confidence builds people and people build successful organisations. Trust is the best defence against dysfunction. Trust must be won, respect must be earned and both must be cherished. Trust starts with trustworthy leadership and integrity, so it is the leader’s responsibility to ensure  that the corporate culture of the organisation is one where a trust culture prevails.

As the trust culture shapes the workday experience of employees, it should be built into the mission and values of the organisation so that it permeates every aspect of activity. Inspiring leaders will always ensure the prevalence of  a trust culture  and successful organisations know that a culture of trust is a core-enabler of high-performance.  Without trust, significant performance is most unlikely; it is the must-have  intangible asset for fulfilment and success. You must trust and believe in people or life becomes impossible- Anton Chekhov.

( Feature photo by Hannah Busing, Unsplash).



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