Five Keys to Building Employee Trust

By Sylvia Melena, M.A.
 
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Employee trust is not automatic. It is something you either earn or lose over time, word by word and action by action.   It takes a lot of effort to build it, and it can be lost in the blink of an eye.  Unfortunately, once it’s lost, it takes a great deal of effort to repair the damage and earn it back.
 
The great news is that when trust has been firmly established and your supervisor-employee relationship is rock solid, your employees will be more forgiving when you make mistakes.  And believe me, you’re human, so you will make mistakes.
 
We can spend days exploring how to build and establish trust and go over the many essential elements of trust.  For now, here are five keys to keep in mind:
 

  1. Honesty – Be honest in all your dealings with everyone.   If you can’t share information because you are bound by confidentiality, law, or ethical reasons, say so.  Employees value your honesty.  They also have the ability to detect when you are being dishonest.   You don’t need to lie or manipulate employees to get things done.  If you are honest with them and share the bigger picture, most will go the extra mile for you.  On the contrary, if you use deceit and manipulation to get things done, it may work for a while, but sooner or later your employees will figure it out.  When the moment of truth comes, your credibility will be lost and this loss will significantly hamper your effectiveness.
  1. Safety – Create an environment where your employees feel safe to be honest with you. If they have needs, issues, or concerns, they should feel safe to come to you for assistance.  They should feel safe to be vulnerable with you and to let you know about their struggles without fear of reprisal.  They need to be safe to express themselves honestly, even when their perspectives differ from yours.  You must demonstrate that you will not use this information against them, but rather to understand how you can best support them and help them achieve success.  When employees know you have their backs, they will have yours.
  1. Fairness – Treat everyone fairly. Let fairness rule when you rate performance, distribute resources, provide rewards, and select people for choice assignments.  Have an objective and standardized system to make these types of decisions and stay true to it.   Demonstrate transparency regarding your system and let your employees know what it takes to reap the rewards.  Employees should not have to guess what it takes to earn excellent performance ratings, receive recognition, or reap other benefits.
  1. Consistency – Be consistent in what you say and do. Employees can’t feel safe if they don’t know what to expect from you.  It is very disconcerting when leaders are inconsistent.  Imagine a leader who shows mercy one moment and lashes out the next.  Uncertainty creates a stressful environment for employees, and this stress is detrimental to your employee’s health, your success, and the success of your organization or company.
  1. Promise Keeping – Keep your promises. Be careful with what you say and how you say it, as promises can be made directly or merely implied.  Once employees perceive a promise, they expect you to deliver.  If you fail to deliver, their trust in you is instantly shattered.  Never say “never” and never say “always.”  Uttering these two words can inadvertently lead to a broken promise.

Each interaction you have with your employees is a golden opportunity to earn and reinforce their trust.  Use these opportunities to build strong supervisor-employee relationships that will lead to everyone’s success and create a thriving workplace. These five keys may not be a cure-all, but they are definitely a strong start.
 
 

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