5 Proven Strategies for Building Trust with Employees

A global CEO survey found that 55% of CEOs are concerned that a lack of trust is negatively impacting their companies’ performance. Their concerns are warranted given that trust in leadership affects employee engagement, motivation, and openness about the challenges their team is facing. While most leaders are starting to realize that trust is critical for improving performance, few understand how to make their teams perceive them as more trustworthy. Here are five research-backed strategies for building trust with employees.

1) Mitigate Your Team’s Stress

Paul Zak, a leading trust expert, found that stress is one of the strongest inhibitors of oxytocin – the chemical that drives us to trust. Since stress tends to cause people to socially withdraw and be wary of others’ intentions, you need to take action to alleviate it to build trust with employees. Here are a couple of effective ways to reduce workplace stress:
  • Foster frequent and open communication with your employees. Poor management (setting deadlines that are nearly impossible, yelling at employees, being unavailable to answer questions etc) is one of the top drivers of workplace stress. Taking the time to discuss project timelines and answer questions is an effective way to help your employees relax and build trust with them.
  • Encourage employees to use their PTO days. Vacations help prevent burnout, lower stress levels, and generally make employees happier and more productive.
  • Help them manage their time better. According to the American Institute of Stress, 46% of employees say their workload is their main source of stress at work. While some employees are overworked, many just don’t know how to manage their time effectively. As a leader, you can eliminate this issue by coaching your employees on how to prioritize work and better manage their time.
Want more tips to lower employee stress levels? Check out this article: Workplace Stress Hurts Performance. Here’s How to Stop It

2) Take the Blame for Failures

According to research published in the Harvard Business Review, leaders who successfully guide their companies’ through challenging times tend to take the blame for failures and give their teams’ credit for successes. Taking the blame builds trust with employees by:
  • Showing that you’re willing to be transparent and take ownership of poor decisions.
  • Alleviating anxiety that groups of employees will be forced to take full responsibility of failures that they didn’t have full control over.
  • Showing that you are committed to learning from your mistakes, making changes, and guiding your team back to success.
Keep in mind that taking the blame for team failures doesn’t mean that you let completely let your employees off the hook for their performance issues. Instead, it means bearing the responsibility for difficult situations when you’re speaking to the team as a whole and having one-on-one conversations to ensure people make improvements moving forward.

3) Actively Show that You Trust Your Employees

According to Zak’s research, it’s a natural human tendency to trust people who show that they trust us. Actively trusting people requires vulnerability and, once you do it, it alleviates people’s hesitation to trust back. Here are a few ways to show your employees that you trust them: Be transparent in your decision-making Honesty is at the core of trustworthiness. People trust leaders who give them the whole truth and only spare the details that are absolutely confidential. Many leaders struggle with transparency because they fear scaring employees with bad news, being perceived as weak, and/or they don’t think their employees are capable of understanding their decision-making processes. If that’s you, you need to leave those fears behind and embrace being open with your team. Being transparent about your decision-making is an effective strategy to build trust with employees because they can rely on you to share complete and accurate information. Give your employees the autonomy to succeed on their own. Giving employees autonomy is one of the most powerful ways to show you trust them. Instead of requiring them to follow strict project instructions and constantly checking in on them, give them:
  • A description of the project’s goal
  • Criteria that must be met for the project to be successful
  • The deadline
Empowering them to choose how they complete projects and when they reach out to you for guidance, shows that you trust them to complete projects successfully. As a result, they’ll feel encouraged to meet expectations and perceive you as more trustworthy. Carefully listen to everyone’s opinions. According to The Trust Project at Northwestern, leaders can easily build trust with employees by giving them opportunities to share their ideas and actively listening to what they say. Taking the time to listen to your employees’ ideas, ask additional questions about them, and explain that you’ll consider implementing some of their points shows that you value them. It’s a simple action, but it has a powerful impact on your relationships with employees and it’s something that many leaders forget to do. Read More: Want Employees to Embrace Feedback? Improve Psychological Safety

4) Congratulate Your Employees for Their Accomplishments

Research shows that public recognition immediately following the achievement of a goal is one of the most effective ways to build trust. Most employees crave validation from their leaders and, if you give it at moments when they feel like they’ve earned it, it strengthens their positive impression of you. The key to using this strategy to build trust with employees is to give them recognition on a regular basis. If your team works on long-term projects and often goes months in between achieving major milestones, find small wins you can congratulate them every few weeks. Consistent recognition reinforces that you believe in their ability to produce great work which maintains trust and morale.

5) Prove Your Competence

Studies shows that competence is required to build trust with employees. No matter how much your employees like you as a person, they need to be assured that you have the intelligence and skills to guide them to success. Many managers make the mistake of thinking that the only way to prove their competence is to assert that they’re always right. However, when it comes to building trust, the best way to show competence is demonstrating that you make decisions logically. Here’s how:
  • Always speak with a calm tone and never get angry with employees. Acting irrationally is quick way to break trust.
  • Answer questions by giving logical, data-driven answers as opposed to describing your intuition or that things are just done a certain way without stating why.
  • Explain your reasoning for major, particularly controversial, decisions. If you don’t, employees may be inclined to question your competence, especially if your decision has poor outcomes. However, if you demonstrated that you had sound logic employees will trust you even during tough times.
Showing that your decisions are logic-driven reassures your employees that your guidance can be trusted. Keep in mind that these strategies for building trust with employees need to be ongoing efforts in order for them to have a lasting impact on your team’s culture.

Give Your Employees the Gift of Productivity

One of the most meaningful ways to show your employees you appreciate them is giving them more time to focus on the work they love. Learn how to give your employees the gift of productivity by checking out our free guide How to Give Your Team Leverage with Virtual Assistants. In it, you’ll learn:
  • What kinds of time-saving tasks your team can offload
  • How we work with you to maximize the ROI of our service
  • Our process for securely leveraging your systems

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