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10 Ways to Build Trust in the Workplace

Have you ever been part of a company where trust is the cornerstone, empowering employees to pitch innovative ideas, engage wholeheartedly, and even tap into their networks to reel in top-notch talent? When there’s trust in the workplace, loyalty and productivity become second nature, with employees often going above and beyond to elevate their team’s work. Building trust in the workplace binds teams, fuels collaboration, and supercharges productivity. So, how can you discern if there’s a lack of trust in the workplace, and more importantly, what strategic moves can leaders make to bridge the trust gap?

Why is trust important in the workplace?

Since every workplace is different, the role that trust plays in unlocking performance is also going to look different depending on the type of work you do and how you do it. Some workplaces rely on employees to flag potential risks or mistakes, while others need team members to work in seamless collaboration.  Regardless of your industry, developing trust in the workplace is going to support a healthy, sustainable business. Let’s look at some of the key reasons why companies prioritize building trust in the workplace:

Employee engagement

When employees trust their leaders and believe that they have employees’ best interests at heart, they’re more likely to stay engaged, enthusiastic, and productive. By contrast, a lack of trust in the workplace can send employees into “self-preservation mode” where they keep their heads down and prioritize protecting their jobs at all cost. Workplaces with disengaged employees often experience low morale, stagnation, and quiet quitting.

Psychological safety

Building trust in the workplace also increases psychological safety because it creates an environment where employees feel secure enough to express themselves, seek feedback, and take risks without fear of judgment or reprimand. Psychological safety is particularly important in companies that require creative thinking and/or employ a diverse workforce. Without trust and psychological safety, employees will be less likely to feel that they belong, admit mistakes, or challenge the status quo.

Employee retention

High-trust organizations often experience higher employee retention as workers feel loyal, challenged, and committed to their company as a result of a positive work environment. Companies that lack trust see higher turnover rates, which can decrease morale, increase staffing and training expenses, and lead to institutional memory loss.

Collaboration

Collaboration and trust are interdependent—trust is essential for effective collaboration, and collaborative relationships play a role in building trust at work. A collaborative environment is crucial for sharing ideas, providing feedback, and creating a space of mutual support. Failure to build trust can lead to costly miscommunication, project delays, and loss of revenue.

“Developing trust in the workplace is most important because continuing to nurture trust over time leads to respect,” said Sarah Grausz, MSOD, an organization development specialist at Lyra Health. “And that’s the ultimate goal because when you have mutually respectful relationships between people at work, there’s a symbiosis that can boost collaboration, innovation, and organizational success.”

What breaks trust in the workplace?

Even with the best intentions, organizations often engage in behaviors that erode trust in the workplace. Some common mistakes that can cause a lack of trust in the workplace:

Avoiding conflict

Conflict is a natural part of problem-solving at work. When leaders discourage disagreement or don’t create safe spaces for open dialogue and debate, employees may feel hesitant to voice opinions or concerns and trust suffers.

Ignoring employee concerns

Employees want to know that their voice matters. Nothing breaks trust faster than when it appears leaders aren’t listening. Companies who don’t seek feedback from employees, or who seek feedback and don’t act on it, will likely lose employees’ trust.

Breaking promises

Building trust at work is undermined when leaders fail to uphold their commitments. Consistent promise-keeping makes employees feel confident that their leaders are reliable and have integrity.

Micromanaging

When employees aren’t given autonomy to make decisions or exercise judgment, it sends a message that they aren’t trusted and decreases morale, job satisfaction, and trust in the workplace.

Poor communication

Withholding information or not communicating openly and honestly whenever possible creates uncertainty and mistrust among employees. Similarly, empathy is another key communication skill that when missing can erode trust in company leaders.

Hazardous workplaces

Many employees are struggling with burnout and mental health issues and feel that their organizations don’t care. Lyra Health’s 2024 State of the Workplace Mental Health report found that 84% of benefits leaders say creating a mentally healthy work culture has become a higher priority for their company, but only 47% of employees believe this to be true. Employees lose trust in their employers when they allow workplace conditions that contribute to burnout and mental health issues.

Not providing effective benefits

Mental health benefits are considered essential by most employees. According to our report, 87% of workers experienced at least one mental health issue in the last year, and 65% of U.S. employees say their mental health interfered with their ability to do their job. There’s a disconnect in perception that can fuel mistrust—95% of benefits leaders say mental health support for individual employees has become a higher priority, while only 46% of employees feel the same way.

How to build trust in the workplace

The evidence supporting the importance of trust in the workplace is clear, yet this is an area where many organizations struggle. Research on building trust at work has pinpointed several effective approaches:

#1 Communicate transparently

Openly communicating company goals, challenges, and strategies builds trust in the workplace by minimizing uncertainty and demonstrating honesty and integrity. Regular town hall meetings, open-door policies, quarterly updates, and suggestion boxes are a few ways to keep the lines of communication open.

In the current climate, layoffs are top of mind for many workers, and there are ways to be thoughtful around that as well. “You may not be able to promise there won’t be workforce reductions, but you can provide regular updates on evolving economic conditions, make sure leaders have face time with employees to answer questions, and encourage employees and managers to use their mental health benefits to care for themselves during unstable times,” said Grausz.

#2 Follow through with commitments

Doing what you say you’re going to do demonstrates reliability, accountability, and a genuine commitment to your words. “Many companies are in a tough position. If they say there won’t be layoffs and then need to let people go two months later, it’s understandable that employees would be distrustful,” said Grausz. “We encourage employers to focus on what they can commit to—which is acknowledging uncertainty, showing empathy and respect for the employee experience, and making plenty of time for face time between employees and leaders.”

#3 Give employees autonomy

In our State of the Workforce Mental Health report, 84% of benefits leaders said their managers have the autonomy needed to make changes to support their employees, while only 52% of managers agreed. Autonomy plays a role in building trust at work by demonstrating confidence in employees’ abilities and decisions, leading to a sense of ownership and accountability.

“At the organizational level, that could include clarifying roles and responsibilities, giving team members choice in work schedules and locations, or offering a choice in career development programs,” said Grausz. “At the manager level, we recommend offering employees the chance to give upward feedback, offering task variation and flexibility in how the work gets done when possible.”

#4 Challenge employees

Completing moderately stressful tasks that are both challenging and achievable activates brain chemicals that strengthen social bonds. Tackling challenges helps employees feel like they’re trusted to take on more difficult tasks. “There can be a sense of accomplishment in difficult assignments, which helps employees visualize their career trajectory and increases trust that the company is investing in their growth,” said Grausz.

#5 Show vulnerability

Vulnerability humanizes leaders and makes them more trustworthy and relatable. Being selectively vulnerable may include admitting mistakes and limitations, soliciting feedback, sharing personal stories or challenges, and expressing emotions authentically in appropriate situations. “Leaders can also be vulnerable by asking questions when you genuinely don’t know the answer,” said Grausz. “You’re putting yourself out there, and the next level of that is following through on the feedback you get.”

#6 Model authenticity

Modeling authenticity creates a culture of trust that empowers employees to be themselves, leading to stronger connections and better collaboration.

“I was recently working with some managers who were experiencing compassion fatigue and wanted to know how to address this authentically with their teams,” said Grausz. “They can bring more of their whole selves to work by saying something to their teams like, ‘I’ve been noticing I’m having a hard time disengaging from work,’ or ‘I’ve been noticing that I’m having a hard time sleeping. I’ve started being intentional about taking breaks during the day and being outside for at least 30 minutes, and it seems to be helping.’ This authenticity and openness makes it safe for others to talk about challenges by demonstrating that it’s OK.”

#7 Recognize good work

Recognition of employees’ contributions can play a role in building trust at work, especially when it’s delivered soon after achieving a goal, originates from peers, and is public, personal, tangible, and unexpected. Some effective approaches include giving kudos at weekly team meetings or company gatherings; personalized notes of appreciation; or rewards such as gift cards or small gifts.

#8 Build emotional intelligence

Prioritize connections at work by expressing genuine interest in colleagues’ success and well-being. This builds trust in the workplace by tapping into people’s innate need for community and collaboration. “We want to make sure managers are making space for employees to have feelings about changes at work, so it’s not just, ‘Here’s what it is.’ Instead, their emotions and experiences are heard and validated,” said Grausz.

“Remember, trust is a feeling, not a fact. That’s why it’s so important to be intentional about how you interact with employees and help them feel included.”

#9 Respond to workplace risk factors

Employers and managers build trust with their teams when they prioritize workplace wellness and mitigate hazardous working conditions that contribute to employee burnout and poor mental health. Upskilling leaders in people management skills, offering industry-specific safety trainings, developing inclusive workplace practices, and destigmatizing mental health are just a few of the ways that companies can address psychosocial risks in the workplace.

“One of the first steps companies can take to provide a safe working environment is to evaluate the risks their employees face,” said Grausz. “Lyra has a great diagnostics tool – our Organizational Health Evaluation – that gives companies real time data they can use to take action. This not only helps prevent burnout, it builds trust by demonstrating commitment to improving mental health at work.”

#10 Provide the right benefits

Providing effective benefits instills a sense of security and appreciation among employees by demonstrating that their well-being is valued by the organization. This builds trust in the workplace by showing a commitment to meeting employees’ needs so that they can perform at their best.

Strong cultures start with a foundation of trust

Building trust in the workplace can feel daunting, but the benefits are worth the effort to create a renewed commitment to integrity, transparency, and empathy. With intention and evidence-based practices, organizations can earn the trust and confidence of their employees and empower a more healthy, productive workforce.

Build trust in your workplace

Lyra offers workforce assessments and tools to create a culture of trust.

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About the reviewer
Sarah Grausz

Sarah is an organizational development program specialist on the workforce transformation team at Lyra Health. Sarah has a master's degree in organization development from American University and specializes in coaching and training leaders to build equitable, redeeming workplaces. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, loves spending time with her large extended family and baking with her toddler.

Clinically reviewed by
Sarah Grausz
By The Lyra Team
12 of March 2024 - 9 min read
Mental health at work
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