Trust is a foundational quality for leaders who are looking to build a workplace culture that brings the sum of all parts together and creates something of much richer value. We’re not speaking here of the kind of trust that says, “I trust you to get your job done on time,” or “I trust you to use your abilities to get your work done.” We’re speaking about the kind of trust that allows you to share vulnerabilities and not be afraid someone will use that information against you in the future. 

Consider a typical workplace where an employee has so much work, along with a partner who has recently lost their job and an ill mother. You can imagine that life – which includes their job – might be overwhelming. Now put yourself in those shoes. Do you feel confident that you could meet with your boss, your supervisor or your director and tell them, “I have a lot going on in life right now and my workload is significant. I don’t know that I’m asking for you to do anything at this moment, but I wanted you to be aware.” What would the potential outcome of this conversation be?

If it’s anything other than an understanding response and perhaps some ideas on how the workplace could help you continue to be successful then you’re working in a low-trust environment and it’s probably one based on fear. 

A fear based culture

Fear is often the main motivator mangers and bosses use to motivate employees. A culture that suggests there is someone who will do what we’re asking you for potentially less money and at a faster pace or one where if you’re not checking email late into the night you’re not actually doing your job isn’t just a sign you’re in a low trust work environment, it’s a sign that you and your colleagues may be jumping ship soon.

Research shows that 1/3 of employees who work in a low trust work environment would rather have no job at all than work for that boss. Remember, people don’t quit jobs, they quit people. A fear-based culture creates a huge expense because turnover is a huge expense, it creates reduced productivity and decreases the amount of time employees give for notice. 

How to Increase Your Capacity for Trust

Building trust, both for yourself as a leader for those that work for you, is actually easier than it might seem. Here are three easy ways you can go about building a culture of trust.

  1. Go out for lunch together! The chemical in our brain that allows us to develop trust with other people is produced in some of the greatest quantities when we’re eating. When we share a meal together, the chemistry in our brain allows us to build feelings of trust in a much quicker and easier way. Do this in smaller numbers, groups of five or six are best.
  2. Send out congratulatory emails. Something like “I trust you in this meeting to bring your best ideas, I can hardly wait to see them!” or “I really appreciated that you brought your best this week. I saw it and want you to know I appreciate it. Keep up the great work.” People appreciate being seen and being recognized for their skills and abilities. When you share that you trust your employees, it gives them confidence to actually do their best instead of living in fear that they are constantly being judged. 
  3. Follow-up on your promises. When an employee or report asks you for something, perhaps they share they’d like your help moving into a new position, or they are wondering if you could help with a contact for a project they’re working on; do it. This doesn’t mean you have to do the project for them. It doesn’t mean you need to do all the research. It can be as simple as “I spoke to the director of HR, they are aware you’re looking for something new. When you speak to them they’re up to speed.” or “Here is the contact at the company who can speak into your project. I didn’t reach out personally but I’m confident they’ll take your phone call and help out.”

Building trust – both to be trusted and to trust others – is foundational for a team to function and work well. Without trust, you have fear and fear has a short shelf life and doesn’t last. Only trust can sustain prolonged success.