Today’s employees are seasoned internet sleuths with a thirst for transparency and a healthy dose of skepticism. Before they even apply for a job, they’ve likely read your Glassdoor reviews, devoured insider scoops on LinkedIn, and compared your perks to those of a unicorn startup across the globe.
In this age of hyper-transparency, attracting and retaining top talent hinges on one crucial factor: trust. And if you’re not careful, the challenges of today’s work environment can create a trust gap between you and your teams.
Building trust with your current and potential employees is critical. It means the difference between a passionate advocate raving about your culture on social media and a disgruntled ex-employee airing their grievances in a viral blog post.
Why the trust gap is widening
The key to building a high-trust company culture is to first understand what’s causing the gap. And the modern workplace creates unique challenges to closing the employee trust gap.
Consider the following recent developments that may be shifting priorities:
The threat of AI
The rise of AI in the workplace is both exciting and a tad unnerving. It can streamline HR processes and eliminate busywork.
But employees might worry their hard-earned skills will be devalued by this tool. Or that their performance reviews will be dictated by cold, emotionless algorithms instead of human understanding.
The fear of becoming cogs in the automation machine can make balancing AI integration with employee trust tricky.
The shift to hybrid work
The pandemic-induced hybrid work model has left some employees in limbo, unsure where they belong.
Those who have less in-person connection might fear they’ll get left out of the loop. On the flip side, remote workers might feel scrutinized under the digital microscope of employee monitoring software.
In either case, employees might question leadership’s commitment to fairness and flexibility. A lack of clarity about expectations and poor management can hurt trust-building in hybrid workplaces.
Awareness of equity and inclusion
From gender pay gaps to concerns about diversity and inclusion, employees are increasingly attuned to imbalances in the workplace. Differences raise concerns about unfairness or exclusion. And proximity bias can leave remote employees feeling left out or undervalued.
When companies preach equality but practice favoritism, the trust deficit explodes. These concerns can make employees question the genuineness of management’s promises.
Closing the employee trust gap: 6 pillars for building trust
On the positive side, the concerns above represent opportunities for growth. Understanding the reasons for the widening trust gap gives you a starting point for implementing employee trust-building strategies.
“Trust” can seem like a vague concept. It’s not necessarily clear how you begin improving something so nebulous. But there are several “pillars” or principles that create a foundation for trust in your workplace.
Here are six workplace trust pillars (and strategies you can use to build them) that will help you bridge the trust gap.
Pillar 1: Transparent communication
When employees don’t have a good sense of the bigger picture, it can be hard to trust company decisions.
To build trust, make sure everyone has a common understanding of what’s going on. When employees know the “why” behind decisions, they feel involved and valued.
Open communication also builds a sense of safety. It lets employees raise concerns and ask questions without fear of judgment. And it strengthens the bond between leadership and employees.
Implement communication strategies for building trust at work like the following:
- Open forums
- Regular company updates
- Regular employee performance reviews
- Honest dialogue about challenges
Pillar 2: Integrity and equity
When people aren’t treated equally (or at least perceive they aren’t), it can create resentment and suspicion.
Fairness breeds trust. It also demonstrates respect for your employees, which gives your team members a sense of belonging and shared purpose.
Look for ways to ensure you include and treat all employees equally. These might include:
- Conducting regular pay audits
- Offering equal career development opportunities to remote and in-office employees
- Consistently enforcing ethical policies
- Promoting diversity and inclusion initiatives
- Offering employers training on unconscious or proximity bias
Pillar 3: Employee empowerment and development
When employees feel trusted with responsibility, they’re more engaged and invested in their work.
Providing opportunities for skill development and career advancement shows you believe in your team’s potential and value their contributions. It builds loyalty and motivates them to go the extra mile.
Here are a few sample strategies for closing the trust gap through empowerment:
- Encouraging learning through conferences, workshops, and mentorship programs
- Creating stretch assignments and opportunities for project ownership
- Revamping your training strategy for a hybrid workplace
Pillar 4: Social responsibility, ethical practices, and sustainability
Employees want to know their work has purpose. They want to work for a company they trust to act with integrity and make a positive impact on the world.
In fact, research shows that purpose-driven employers have happier employees, higher growth rates, greater innovation, and lower employee turnover.
Aligning your company’s actions with its values shows authenticity and commitment to something bigger than profit.
Take steps to ensure you build trust about your purpose. For instance:
- Align company values with responsible social and environmental practices
- Engage in volunteer opportunities in your local communities
- Demonstrate commitment through transparent reporting on social impact initiatives and sustainability efforts
Pillar 5: Continuous feedback and improvement
Regular feedback builds trust. It shows employees you care about their development and well-being. It demonstrates openness to learning and improvement. And it creates an environment where everyone feels their voice matters.
Create regular opportunities to both offer and receive feedback.Then follow up by addressing concerns with actionable steps. This kind of direct action shows you’re committed to making real changes and helps build a sense of partnership and progress.
Use continuous feedback to bridge the employee trust gap with strategies like:
- Holding regular performance reviews
- Using 360-degree feedback surveys
- Conducting anonymous pulse surveys where employees can voice their opinions
- Taking action based on feedback and publicly sharing the steps you’ll take
Pillar 6: Growth mindset
Encouraging a culture of learning and experimentation opens the door to innovation and resilience. When people see mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow, it creates a safe space for taking risks and pushing boundaries.
Help people trust that you support individual development and will let them learn from their mistakes. You’ll not only improve collaboration, but you’ll also build a team that can thrive in a rapidly changing world.
Here are some ways to help build a culture of adaptability and learning:
- Setting aside time for learning at work
- Supporting employee growth beyond current roles
- Discussing mistakes and lessons learned
- Investing in innovation and change management initiatives
- Offering opportunities for cross-functional collaboration
When trust becomes your greatest investment
Building a high-trust company isn’t only about creating good feelings. It’s a strategic investment in your long-term success.
But trust isn’t a quick fix. It’s cultivated through consistent, deliberate action. You need to “walk the talk” over time to build real trust.
The good news? That investment pays off exponentially. The more you invest in the pillars and employee trust-building strategies listed above, the more trust thrives. And the more trust flourishes, the stronger your company becomes.
So, embrace the long game. Focus on building a foundation of trust, and watch your team, and your company’s success flourish.