Jobs and the Future of Work

Employees who trust their leaders are more likely to love their job

British Prime Minister Tony Blair (L) shakes hands with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder at the Gleneagles Hotel for the G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland July 7, 2005. Aid, debt relief and climate change will top the agenda when leaders of the G8 - the Group of Seven industrialised nations plus Russia - meet for three days in Gleneagles.

Two men shake hands. Image:  REUTERS/Jim Young

Heather R. Huhman
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As a workplace leader, you have the responsibility to strive for the trust of your employees; that task comes with the territory.

After all, trust in senior leaders directly impacts employee attitudes toward the company and work, according to a study of 828 employees conducted by Globoforce, in May. In fact, workers with high levels of trust for their senior leaders are the most likely to love their jobs.

But the Globoforce survey also found a problem in this regard: While 80% of the workers surveyed said they trusted their peers, only 72% expressed trust in their bosses, and only 65% in their senior leaders.

So, given the importance of senior leaders building better trust with their employees, where do leaders even begin?

1. Increase transparency

To start building that trust, you, as a leader, must increase transparency. It is important to share timely information when possible with employees. Leaders also should make themselves available to their teams, admit mistakes when they happen and share efforts to improve employees' work lives.

It can be challenging to determine how much transparency is enough, but simply surveying employees for feedback can provide great insight. Here, a platform like Comparably can be a great tool; it allows employees to anonymously provide data on their company's compensation and insights into work culture. Employers can find out how employees feel about workplace transparency, and use the information to improve the company culture.

2. Increase recognition

Equally important to transparency is increased employee recognition. According to the Globoforce study, employees who had received the most recent recognition expressed significantly more trust in their leadership. Employees recognized within a month before the survey reported trust for senior leaders at a rate of 82%, compared to a 48% trust rate for those receiving no recognition.

So, to build trust, recognize both individual accomplishments and team successes. Even better, cite specific examples of employees' valuable work. Be sure to acknowledge accomplishments regularly and often. After that, the trust will come naturally.

3. Place less emphasis on seniority

Treat employees at all levels with the same respect. Data released in February 2015 by Virgin Pulse revealed that nearly 60% of employees surveyed said their relationship with their employer positively impacted their focus or productivity at work, and 44% said it positively impacted their stress levels.

Make work environments inclusive. Give all employees an equal voice, rather than saying, "These are your leaders, and they have all the power."

When you establish a workplace that values all employees equally, employees will feel more inclined to trust senior leadership. That trust will lead to all of these additional benefits, like increased focus and productivity.

4. Spend one-on-one time

Spending time with employees individually is another way to strengthen the relationship. Only 15 percent of employees said they believed their feedback was "highly valued" by managers, according to a March 2015 survey by 15Five. On top of that, 58% of employees said managers valued their feedback only moderately, slightly or not at all.

Give employees the opportunity to provide leaders feedback, and vice versa. This two-way communication is important to building relationships. Spend some time learning about employee wins and struggles firsthand.

It's also essential to implement any changes you make from what you learn during one-on-one time with your employees.

5. Participate in workplace events

In addition to one-on-one time, time spent with your team all together is also important. According to 90% of workers surveyed in March by Unify, the ideal setting for leaders' participation is an informal work environment.

Organizing and participating in workplace events with employees is what will make your environment fun and build a strong company culture. When you make an effort to be part of the team, you contribute to their trust in leadership.

Overall, building trust takes time, but by taking steps to improve relationships, leaders can create an ideal work environment for everyone, at all levels of the company.

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