Building Trust in the Workplace

Building Trust in the Workplace

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Trust is the building block of all organisations, if not everything in life, and is the single factor that makes or breaks business success. According to the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer Report (as shown in figure one), we are facing a global trust crisis with the constant cases of manipulating (and fake) news on social media and the fallen state of the Government, and a decline in leadership credibility. Businesses are struggling to reduce the turnover rate as a result of a damaged belief system. The consequences can be way worse than that if we don’t tackle the trust issue appropriately.

Figure 1. Most trusted spokesperson (Source:



As shown in the report, an alarming 40 percent of the surveyed Malaysian employees shows distrust in their CEOs as compared to the global rate at 37 percent. It indicates that today’s employees, the majority of whom are millennials, are more self-oriented than their older generations. They simply believe that one has to follow exactly what their bosses ask them to. In fact, trust is instilled more evidently in peers, with 60 percent of the respondents agree that ‘a person like yourself’ is the most credible source of information. That being said, the issues with trust often happen between an employee and his or her supervisor or manager, rather than peer-to-peer.

Why do people lose trust?

The main cause of this failed belief in leadership is greatly due to the following factors:

  • Lack of transparency. ‘Closed-door’ policies, such as top-down communication or limited information on the company growth, often do harm to the employee-employer relationships. When the employees are not provided with sufficient information related to their work, they would automatically have doubts in the management. Trust is a two-way street; you get what you put out there.
  • Lack of communication. Trust is built upon credibility and credibility is conveyed through effective communication. When employees have a vehicle to express their thoughts and managers are able to address all the workplace issues with clarity, the organisation will also become more trusting. Vice versa, a lack of communication will create unnecessary conflicts, which may lead to further rumours and tension among the employees.
  • Lack of managerial acumen. Naturally, a subordinate often expects his or her manager to be able to make informed decisions as and when problems arise. Failure to do so will put the managers through the risks of losing credibility to their direct reports. Gen Y employees are eager to prove themselves at work, hence they perceive the manager’s’ inability to make certain decisions as a barrier to their advancement in the organisation.
  • Lack of integrity. The biggest driver of trust is integrity, regardless of the organisation structure and hierarchy system. As for the higher-up, it has everything to do with ensuring a diverse and inclusive workplace for everyone and to the employees, the same level of integrity is expected when it comes to work ownership and loyalty.
  • Lack of competence. In order to establish trust in their team, leaders must first focus on developing their competence. The more knowledgeable a manager can prove him or herself to be, the better he or she will understand the subordinates’ roles and responsibilities. It also reflects a person’s attitudes in the workplace and complemented by a respective level of trust (reliability) that other people have in them.

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Building trust in the workplace: It’s everyone’s job

Trusting and being trustworthy are inseparable in all relationships. You can’t enforce trust without showing the same level of trustworthiness. Therefore, it requires both employers and employees to work together to build trust, and it takes almost the same disciplines for both sides to achieve the desired change in the workplace.

Let’s first identify the existing or potential problems that affect employee sentiment toward trust. We can measure the behavioural attributes to manage one’s trust issue, which consists of engagement, collaboration, and loyalty.

Employees tend to slack off from work when they fail to realise the purpose of their jobs. Sadly, without a shared goal that glues the leaders and their team together, it’s impossible to build trust. As an individual contributor, one must learn to understand the bigger picture and that their works have a substantial impact on the team, no matter how minor or major the assignment is. That mindset is a trust enabler, firstly in one’s self and secondly, in the leader’s vision.

As mentioned in the beginning of the article, a person is more likely to trust in his or her peers than in the management. With that said, collaboration comes off as the second most influential attribute of trust. While collaboration or teamwork is rather subjective, it can tell a lot about a person’s trustworthiness. In the business context, most people rely on a written agenda to work together as a team, which does very little to help gain authentic trust. In order to achieve a more genuine collaboration, it’s imperative to improve one’s skills and competence and in turn, gain a certain level of credibility in front of other colleagues.

Loyalty in today’s workplace is a debatable concept since most people switch jobs to accelerate their career trajectory. Although job-hopping is not a negative thing as long as it makes progressive sense; it does, however, influence how people measure trust in an organisation. Disloyalty has less to do with the organisation’s performance but more about the individual’s mindset. People who are devoted to their companies because they genuinely enjoy the work will find it easier to trust in their growth with said companies. On the other hand, those who are determined to stay for a fixed period of time only to move on more quickly indeed don’t have trust in the organisation.  

On the other side of the table, business leaders can refer to the trust equation, developed by Trusted Advisor’s Founder Charles H. Green, to understand more about trusting and being trustworthy. It comprises of four variables: credibility, reliability, intimacy, and self-orientation.


To put things into perspective, we’ll explain the qualities of trust based on the following behaviours:

  • Credibility. Constantly develop leadership competencies to ensure effective management styles and profound knowledge of every task. People naturally expect their managers to be the source of information through which they can benefit from in terms of professional development. Not only that, a good leader must also be able to convince his or her staffs to follow their direction and trust in their actions.
  • Reliability. Trust is best tested in challenging times as gold is tested by fire. One of the many ways for managers to build trust is through the ways they handle conflicts, which is to take the blame and give credits (never the other way around). This gesture helps employees feel safe to raise their concerns whenever things go wrong and to contribute without fear of failure. In return, the leaders will be able to foster a culture of open communication and to connect with everyone more personally.
  • Intimacy. This value stems from the manager’s relationships with his or her team, referring to not just the formal collaboration at work but also the emotional attachment when it comes to every individual’s struggles. So in order to build trust, a leader must treat the information that reaches them as confidential, yet sensitive enough to address certain issues to help their employees maintain a healthy work-life balance.  

Combining all the factors in the numerator, it’s clear that to increase trustworthiness is to create a workplace in which the manager’s role is less of a commander and more of the role model for the employees.

Last but not least, while keeping the numerator values upward, one must pay attention to the dominator ‘self-orientation’ as well. Because the only way to build trust in others is to put their best interests in mind above personal desires. This factor indicates the manager’s personal bias when it comes to workplace management. It’s as simple as avoid playing favourites and ensuring equal opportunities for all.

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