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Do your employees trust you?

Kate Allen, Managing Director, Allen Associates

The 18th annual Edelman Trust Barometer, a worldwide survey on trust and credibility, shows that trust in UK businesses remains worryingly low, at only 43%.

At a time of increased competition between organisations locally, nationally and internationally, the need for Employers to gain and retain the trust of their most valuable asset – their people – has never been greater.

So, what are the causes of this distrust and more important, what can Employers do to rectify the situation?

It isn’t easy to pinpoint the root causes of employee distrust, but the Edelman report suggests some of the key factors to be company restructuring programmes, wage freezes and pension closures. The level of distrust is magnified in the case of senior executives receiving handsome pay outs and bonuses when those lower down in the organisation see no change to their real incomes. Employees are all too often made to feel like a cost rather than an asset.

Who is responsible?

Building trust is the most important job for a company’s CEO, ahead even of producing high quality products and service. Nearly two-thirds of respondents cited in the Edelman report say they want CEOs to take responsibility for policy change, rather than relying on the government to intervene.

However, many business leaders still regard trust building as a ‘soft’ skill and underestimate just how important it is to a company’s success. Trust in an organisation is something that must be deliberately cultivated and needs to come from the top down.

How can you build trust?

There are five key ways in which organisations can build a culture of trust:

  1. Empower your employees: Trust goes both ways and one of the best ways to build it is to trust your members of staff to build their own solutions and ways to improve productivity and efficiency. Leaders must still remain accountable, but setting goals and letting your employees find their own way to meet them promotes innovation and results in a more loyal workforce.
  2. Encourage team building: People work harder when they work with people they like, as they don’t want to let their colleagues down. Giving employees plenty of opportunities to work and socialise together is important in building trust between team members and therefore improving productivity.
  3. Promote transparency: According to a report on the Neuroscience of Trust from the Harvard Business Review, only 40% of employees feel that they are well informed about their company’s goals, strategy and tactics. In order to combat the stress and distrust that this uncertainty can cause, senior leaders need to be transparent about their company’s current position and roadmap for the future.
  4. Set team challenges: Setting teams difficult but achievable tasks is a great way of encouraging members of staff to trust one another and work well together. Recognising and rewarding tasks when they are met gives employees a positive sense of wellbeing that helps foster trust and happiness.
  5. Ask for help: This may sound counterintuitive and likely to make employees doubt the leaders, but showing vulnerability is an important part of building trust. Asking for help is a signal to employees that their leader is confident and secure and is willing to get input from everyone in the company in order to meet goals. Staff trust their managers more when they seem human.

Trust, like respect, has to be earned. But it can take time and the steps above need to be part of everyday working life within the business. Get it right and the long-term benefits can deliver strong results not just in terms of positively impacting the bottom line, but also in improved staff retention, higher staff engagement and employee advocacy levels, and staff loyalty too.

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