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Six ways to rebuild trust at work


Trust takes years to build, yet can be destroyed in an instant. But retaining and regaining the confidence of your employees can be achieved if you modify your actions

Trust is a precious resource. Once broken it can be difficult for businesses and bosses to regain, damaging chances of future success.

Customers always want to do business with trustworthy brands. Likewise, a trustworthy company will more likely attract business and encourage repeat purchases. Suppliers, too, will continue to work with businesses in difficult times, but only if they trust them.

And within the workplace, trust is a rare and valuable commodity. Writing for Management Today, Jack Torrance sets out why employees will be more willing to go that extra mile for their bosses and stick around if a culture of trust is built up within an organisation.

A breakdown in communications

Recent research by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) found that 85% of leaders agree that trust is critical to business performance, yet only a third of middle managers fully trust their bosses.

In the words of Robert Phillips, former EMEA boss of Edelman: “Trust is not a function of PR. Trust is an outcome, not a message. It is deeply behavioural, complex and fragile. Trust is hard-fought, hard-earned and hard-won every day, by actions, not words.”

Trust then is hard to earn, yet easy to lose. And winning back trust from inside an organisation can seem a daunting task. Some managers may not even be aware they have lost the trust of their workers: the same CMI study found that 72% of senior leaders actually think they are highly trusted as a manager.

But regaining trust can be done. Here’s how:

1) Take responsibility. As a leader it’s your job to take responsibility for things that go wrong, regardless of whether they are directly your fault. That doesn’t mean letting people get away with things. A failure under your watch is ultimately the result of your failure to hire the right people or manage them in the right way. Blaming someone else will just mean people will trust you less in the long run. Equally, when things go well, don’t take all of the credit.

2) Match your words and actions. Never say you can do something unless you are 100% sure you can do it. What you do matters more than what you say. People don’t forget promises made.

3) Cut the crap. If times are tough, be honest. Irritating jargon and management speak won’t wash. “Don’t say you’re ‘reformulating the company’s resourcing allocation to align with difficult market conditions’ when you mean you’re laying hundreds of people off. Polishing the turd won’t make it any less pungent.”

4) Be as transparent as possible. Obviously, there are some bits of financial information that need to remain secret. But workers may come to resent you if you are not open about the state of the company or any future plans.

5) Invite and listen to feedback. “People aren’t going to trust you if you don’t care what they think. If you seem an aloof and detached leader passing down diktats from above with no interest in your juniors’ opinions then don’t expect them to have your back.”

6) Share the wealth. Linking your own rewards with those of everyone else can pay off. From company-wide bonus schemes to awarding shares in the business, “if you succeed, they succeed – and vice versa”.