“Earn trust, earn trust, earn trust. Then you can worry about the rest.” 

Seth Godin

Trust in the workplace is the building block of everything else. Trust directly affects productivity, collaboration, resilience and psychological safety.

When we don’t trust the people and organisation around us, we feel unsafe. When we are psychologically unsafe, we protect ourselves by withdrawing, not taking risks, covering our backs and constantly looking for threats. It adds dramatically to our overall stress levels because we can never relax.

Creativity is reduced when we don’t trust those around us to be supportive. We will always play it safe if we think that other people are looking for us to fail or if we will be punished for trying something new.

Productivity drops when we feel psychologically unsafe. We spend too much time triple checking what we do and focusing on problems instead of solutions. Our focus becomes ‘stay safe’ instead of ‘do my best work’.

Collaboration suffers when we don’t trust other people to work with us fairly. We hang on to our good ideas and we don’t offer ideas to solve other people’s problems.

Morale suffers because we don’t trust other people enough to talk to them when they are doing things that hurt us. Those daily microaggressions go unchallenged, and healthy boundaries are breached regularly.

Mental Health is damaged when we feel isolated from those around us because we don’t trust them. Everyone feels like a potential threat and we have no sense of belonging.

What do we mean by trust?

Firstly, trust is not binary; we don’t either trust someone or not trust them (although that’s commonly how we talk about it).

We actually rate our trust in someone based on FOUR parts:

  1. Sincerity
    Is this person sincere and congruent with their thoughts, words and actions? Do their words and actions match up? Do I think that they are always telling me the truth?
  2. Reliability
    Does this person keep their commitments? Do they always do their best not to let me down? Do they make highly specific promises? 
  1. Competence
    Does this person know what they are doing? Do they have the skills needed to to their job? Are they normally professional?
  2. Care
    Does this person actually care about me? Are they generally empathic and kind?

Even within those four parts, it isn’t a ‘yes/no’ situation – we could rate each out of five using a likert scale:

  1. Strongly Disagree
  2. Disagree
  3. Haven’t formed an opinion yet
  4. Agree
  5. Strongly Agree

That can give us a very specific picture of the ways in which we trust someone or not. 

So we may trust someone’s sincerity and believe strongly that they care for us, but we may doubt their reliability and we may be unsure of their competence. 

We may also have different trust in different contexts. We may trust someone’s competence to perform brain surgery, but not trust them to hold a congruent conversation. Someone may be reliable at work but flaky as a friend. 

Feeling Trusted

It is also important for us to feel trusted in the workplace. If we feel that the organisation is constantly monitoring our behaviour, looking to catch us out and micromanaging us, it disrupts our connection and sense of belonging.

Feeling disrespected is one of the main reasons people cite when leaving a job. Respect is directly linked to whether we feel trusted, or whether we are being treated like a potential criminal all the time.

Measuring Trust

There are three main trust vectors in the workplace:

  • Trust between colleagues and their team
  • Trust in line managers
  • Trust in the organisation and the CEO

In all three cases, we measure this trust by asking people directly. For example, to examine the relationship between a member of staff and their line manager, we might ask them to what extent they agree with these statements:

  1. My line manager cares about me
  2. My line manager always tells the truth and speaks with sincerity
  3. My line manager always does what they promise, to the best of their ability
  4. My line manager is highly competent as a manager
  5. I feel confident that I can offer honest feedback to my line manager
  6. My Line manager trusts me

We use the Likert scale to give some granularity to each statement:

  • Strongly Disagree
  • Disagree
  • Haven’t formed an opinion yet
  • Agree
  • Strongly Agree

How do we use Trust data?

Once we know what trust within an organisation looks like, it allows us to take direct and specific action.

For example, we might work with the organisation to train managers in how to demonstrate that they care about their team.

Or we might focus on changing the Ways of Working in the company to focus on increasing creative collaboration.

Or we might work with the CEO to assist them on improving their leadership style to focus on trust building amongst senior execs.