8 Keys to building trust in the workplace

Written by: Nora St-Aubin | Illustrated by: Simon Lavallée-Fortier
Published on December 20, 2019 | Reading time: 8m

Trust is a pinnacle of effective leadership—but it doesn’t come with your title. Building trust as a leader and throughout your workforce is an ongoing process, and when trust is strong, employees thrive and so does business.

As a leader of your organization, it’s essential that you establish trust with your workforce from the outset, and then continue to nurture that trust, most especially through times of change and growth.

In this post you’ll learn…

  • Why trust in the workplace is essential to business success
  • Insights from our CEO on the importance of trust as your company scales
  • The 8 keys to building company-wide trust in the workplace

Free bonus: download our complete before, during, and after guide for the perfect 1-on-1!

The importance of trust in the workplace

Trust is requisite in the workplace so that everyone feels they are there for the right reasons, working toward shared goals with a sense of purpose.

Yet, according to our Officevibe data, 19% of employees do not feel that their organization trusts them to contribute to its mission.

When team members trust one another, they feel safe to share their ideas and conflict becomes productive. Trust between employees and their managers leads to improved performance and strengths-based employee development. And ultimately, with a workforce that trusts in your leadership, everyone is better aligned around a shared mission, common goals, and the strategy that will take you there.

In fact, Harvard Business Review finds that employees working in high-trust environments report:

  • 74% less stress,
  • 50% higher productivity,
  • 76% more engagement, and
  • 70% more alignment with their companies’ purpose compared to employees in low-trust environments.

We asked our own CEO what challenges he faced as a leader while growing his business:

“When a business gets bigger, more and more things are happening at the same time everywhere in the business, and alignment becomes the biggest challenge. You can’t be involved in everything anymore…and you lose track of very subtle things that are important.”

Simon De Baene

When companies grow, leaders risk becoming more disconnected from their people, which can impact levels of trust throughout the organization. Here’s how to fix it.

How leaders can build trust in the workplace

The 8 keys to building company-wide trust as a leader.

1. Demonstrate a clear vision

People want to feel that they’re a part of something bigger than themselves, and your employees depend on you to establish a clear vision, mission, and direction to align around. If you want your employees to get on board with new initiatives and produce meaningful work, you need to be heading in the same direction.

A key to success is to ensure that your leadership teams are aligned, and you’re all speaking the same language. Your managers are the ones helping your teams turn the vision into action, and action into output, so make sure they’re well equipped with not just a mission statement, but a breakdown of how that translates to their team goals and objectives.

Tip for promoting a clear vision: When you’re presenting your workforce with a new strategy or initiative, always connect it back to your core mission.

2. Create open lines of communication


You know better than anyone that the only constant is change. As your company scales, building open lines of communication helps you stay tapped into your employees’ day-to-day realities and shifting needs. Maintaining a high-level view helps you spot the places where they need support, visibility, or a new approach. And when you’re responsive to those fluctuations, your employees will trust that you’re there to empower them.

Tip for maintaining open communication: Keeping a pulse on your workforce and empowering your managers with real-time data on employee engagement is essential.

Our CEO shares about the development of Officevibe’s Pulse Survey tool:

“Running our own business, we learned that truly amazing businesses are all about people. Pulse surveys have become the ultimate way for leaders to listen to the heartbeat of their business. Change doesn’t happen without people and the bigger you get, the more difficult it gets. The pulse survey is a direct connection with everyone in the company and it helps me bring the business to the next level with more confidence. Dedicating this much attention to people is how you lead a business in the 21st century.”

Simon De Baene

3. Practice transparency

Transparency goes hand in hand with effective communication. It doesn’t simply mean sharing everything, all the time; it’s about communicating the most pertinent information at the right time, and making information easily accessible across your teams.

Your employees don’t want to feel like they’re the last to know about big changes or shifts in direction. While you’ve likely had multiple conversations, brainstorms, and prioritization meetings with your leadership team leading up to launching a new initiative, your workforce doesn’t have the same context. Keep them up-to-date with developments in real-time—even better, solicit their feedback as you go.

Tip for practicing transparency: Before giving your teams a status update, do the mental exercise of putting yourself in their position to help you structure your message. What will impact their work most directly? What will they need time to prepare for? How will this affect their goals?

4. Build relationships throughout your workforce

Trust is a natural byproduct of relationship building, and encouraging employees to develop those genuine connections nurtures the psychological safety on your teams. Don’t dismiss this idea as fluff too quickly—this feeling of safety enables employees to give and receive constructive feedback, share new ideas, have difficult conversations, raise flags, and challenge the status quo. Each of these factors help build an environment of continuous learning and development that sparks the kind of creativity and innovation that will set your business apart.

Tip for building relationships: Find ways to promote relationship building in the context of your employees’ day-to-day. Try starting your next cross-team meeting by having everyone share something they’re proud of with the person next to them.

5. Offer trust by default

Phylactère on fire

Trust goes both ways, and if you want your employees to trust you, you need to show that you trust them. When employees are empowered to leverage their strengths and expertise, it gives them the autonomy to do what they do best (the reason you hired them in the first place). Feeling this trust from leadership nurtures employee loyalty and ambassadorship, which improves retention and bolsters recruitment efforts.

Tip for offering trust: Aim to set objectives that are specific enough to guide your teams, but flexible enough to promote creativity. When you implicate employees in defining their work, they feel a more personal sense of purpose in contributing to the broader organizational goals.

6. Own mistakes and failures

The thing about mistakes is that they’re inevitable. Being a great leader doesn’t mean you’re immune to failure, but it does mean understanding the power in facing failures head-on (and definitely not avoiding them—or worse, blaming your employees). Acknowledging the problem and coming together with your workforce to find solutions and learn through the process is the best way to ensure mistakes don’t repeat themselves, and others are avoided in the future. Taking responsibility shows that you are just as human as the rest of the team and that there is always room for improvement.

Tip for owning failures: When an initiative fails, call a company-wide meeting to talk about what went wrong, what could have been done differently, and what solutions you can put in place to move forward. Frame it as a learning opportunity from the get-go and be an active participant in the exercise.

7. Seek out feedback, and act on it

Your employees want to know that they have a voice—and that they’re being heard. Collecting employee feedback is paramount to understanding your employees’ experience, spotting any potential issues early, and gaining insights and new ideas from the different areas of your workforce.

The most important part? Taking action. Turning your employees’ feedback into changes, initiatives, or simply talking points is what shows them they’ve been heard. And knowing that their opinions matter to you strengthens the trust they have in you as a leader, helping you keep your top talent.

As our CEO explains on the importance of collecting feedback:

“It’s not because people say they have a problem with ‘X’ that you will fix ‘X,’ but you can talk about it and people will recognize that. Just knowing that they’ve been heard is what people really want most of the time.”

Simon De Baene

Tip for collecting employee feedback: seek out feedback from employees after meetings, events, or to follow-up on the rollout of your last quarter. Tools like Officevibe’s Custom Polls can help you collect company-wide feedback on initiatives unique to your business, which is key in times of change and growth.

8. Give credit where credit is due

True leadership comes with a healthy dose of humility. Just as important as owning failures is giving credit to the talented and hard-working employees who contribute to each and every win. Your teams come together to turn your vision into a reality, and they deserve to be recognized for their efforts.

Of course, you want to give meaningful recognition in a timely manner to the people on your immediate team, but as your company grows, you also want to foster a culture of recognition. Growth is exciting, but it also means losing visibility on all the incredible things that are happening, so make time to shine light on achievements and encourage your teams to celebrate their wins.

Tip for giving credit: Reserve the last 15 minutes of company-wide meetings for giving kudos and sharing wins. Not only will it give cross-team visibility on what everyone’s working on, it provides a public platform for giving and receiving meaningful recognition between peers.

Leading a company to greatness isn’t done in a day, and no one said it would be easy. But when you build strong foundations of trust, your teams will align around the central mission of your organization and put their best foot forward, so you can reach business success—together.

This article has been updated to reflect current workplace and leadership best practices and trends.

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