It's hard to argue the importance of trust in employee engagement. Our own experiences reinforce how very different it feels to work for someone you trust versus someone you don't. In fact, the measurement instrument used by Great Place to Work to determine who makes the Fortune's "The 100 Best Companies to Work For" list is called the "Trust Model."
Trust is a big deal at work. It's also complicated. Building trust with employees is as much about what you need to stop doing as it is what you need to start doing. There are many ways that we unintentionally kill trust within our organizations and until we stop doing those things, it's going to be really hard to create an engaging workplace.
Here are a dozen ways you might be killing trust in your organization today without even realizing it.
1. Asking for Feedback and Doing Nothing With It
It's a noble idea to ask employees for their feedback, but if you don't honor that feedback by sharing what you heard and how you will use it to make improvements, it's best not to ask in the first place.
2. Tolerating Bad Behavior
Employees pay close attention to what kind of behavior is tolerated and left unchecked. When someone is behaving badly (i.e., being a jerk, harassing others, stealing ideas from others) and nothing is done about it, it can send a disturbing message that when something like this happens to you, no one will have your back.
3. Asking for Doctor's Notes
Asking someone to prove they went to the doctor (or a funeral or anyplace else) is like requiring them to raise their hand to go to the bathroom. You are treating them like children. It screams that you don't trust them. It's offensive. No one wants to be treated that way.
4. Communicating Slowly
Many employees depend on their paycheck to survive. So when big changes happen with the organization and they don't hear about it from you first, it can make them very nervous. Taking time to get your message "just right" won't matter if they read about it in the news first.
5. Bogus Organizational Values
Making a big deal of organizational values is only a good idea if those values are real. As an employee, if the values painted on the wall describe a different experience than I'm having each day at work, how can I believe anything else you say to me?
6. Talking Often, but Never Listening
Communication isn't just about pushing out information. Think about the last time you had coffee with someone who talked the entire time, never once stopping to ask you a question. Eventually, you probably started to tune them out, no longer caring what they were saying. Effective communication is two-way and requires as much listening as talking.
7. Not Following Through on Commitments
If you make a promise to employees, you had better follow through. If you can't follow through, stop making promises.
8. Promoting Bad Managers
A terrible manager is often the difference between an employee loving and hating their job. Employees need to trust that you won't promote those who shouldn't be managing others, and if you do, that you'll fix it quickly.
9. Being Quick With Blame but Slow With Credit
Employees have seen the fire drill to "hold people accountable" when big things go wrong. Names are named. Careers are ruined. But when is the last time that much energy was given to finding out who contributed to a win to ensure that they are celebrated and rewarded?
10. Making Compensation Unpredictable or Uncertain
The paycheck is likely the main reason people come to work. Making changes to pay should be thoughtful and slow and provide lots of warning. When you start messing around with employee's pay, you are messing with their lives.
11. Violating Confidentiality
No gray area here. If you violate confidences, trust is gone — often for good.
12. Sugarcoating Things
Employees want to know that their leaders are up to the task when the stakes are high. When bad or hard news needs to be shared, sugarcoating the message makes leadership look uncertain — and employees can see right through it.
If you're committed to building trust with employees, start with eliminating these behaviors from your organization. It's much easier to build a better relationship with employees when you aren't killing trust faster than you can build it.
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