The difference between an organization that enjoys a culture of trust and one that does not is akin to a good or bad relationship. Healthy relationships foster trust, communication, and a sense of wellbeing. The precise opposite is true of dysfunctional ones that cause everyday people stress and anxiety before getting out.
What industry leaders may want to consider is the state of their organization. Are your employees stuck in a bad marriage, or do they want to renew their vows? Establishing a culture of trust can make a significant difference in terms of employee happiness, feelings of inclusiveness, and bottom-line productivity. However, making organizational culture shifts requires diligent, mindful thought leadership that starts at the top.
What is a Culture of Trust?
In many ways, a culture of trust in the workplace mirrors the emotional safety people feel in a healthy relationship. Thought leaders in wide-reaching sectors point to key elements that form the foundation of a culture of trust across industries. Based largely on human emotions and interactions, the CEO at Learner-Centered Collaborative and author of “The Four Elements of Trust,” Devin Vodicka, says the following must all be present for employees to feel safe.
- Consistency: Predictability helps people feel a greater sense of safety.
- Compassion: Care and compassion foster a sense of protection and safety in a trusting relationship.
- Communication: Open and honest dialogue supports a sense that being vulnerable is acceptable and won’t be exploited.
- Competency: The ability to carry out work-related tasks is imperative and garners support from co-workers.
Some might argue that all of these attributes reflect the healthy emotional relationship of personal lives, with the exception of “competency.” But upon further reflection, don’t people want their partners to demonstrate emotional competency in everyday life? Although Vodicka’s “The Four Elements of Trust” focuses primarily on educational settings, his discussion of the teacher-principal relationship proves equally applicable in corporate environments.
Why is Trust So Important in an Organization's Culture?
Although experienced leaders grow to understand the value of a culture of trust, they also learn it can be challenging to establish and easily damaged. It’s not uncommon for frontline workers to come to the table with an inherent mistrust of leadership teams. Supporting that position, a variety of surveys peg employee distrust of management between 45-57 percent. However, Harvard researcher Paul J. Zak reportedly found that high-trust work environments outpaced low-trust companies in the following ways.
- Stress: 74 percent lower
- Energy: 106 percent higher
- Productivity: 50 percent higher
- Missed Work: 13 percent fewer sick days
- Engagement: 76 percent increase
- Satisfaction: 29 percent better
- Burnout: 40 percent less
From a company decision-maker's perspective, an emotionally healthy workforce allows people to support each other and solve issues that would ordinarily require formal and informal dispute resolution.
Building a Culture of Trust in the Workplace
Offering an overview of Zak’s research, Marissa Levin points to eight steps required to develop a thriving and emotionally safe culture of trust. These include the following.
- Recognize Excellence by Team Members
- Introduce Difficult but Attainable Goals
- Empower Employees to Leverage Their Best Work Practices
- Offer Workers a Voice in How to Perform Tasks
- Communicate Effectively
- Take Time to Build Relationships
- Support Whole-Person Growth
It’s also crucial to shrug off outdated stereotypes that position business leaders as stoic, emotionless profit hawks. When people open themselves up to others and demonstrate they have the same feelings and vulnerabilities, interpersonal connections become easier. People will go the extra mile for a real person who expresses emotions. They may not feel the same way about a dispassionate task-master.
Leadership and the Culture of Trust
The culture shift away from treating employees like robotic assets to flesh and blood human beings has already taken root. In a recent PwC survey, approximately 50% of CEOs indicated that lack of trust in the workplace threatens to undermine their organization. That should be something of a wake-up call to those who resist mindfulness and other whole-person practices. More forward-thinking business leaders encourage employees to take time before meetings and extend breaks to provide opportunities to mediate or just clear their minds.
Mindful leadership sometimes requires decision-makers to step back and question their methods, actions, and revitalize messaging. According to "Transforming Leaders into Mindful Leaders," there are fundamental ways an industry leader can retrain their thought processes to instill a culture of trust. These include the following.
- Practice mindful meditation during the workday.
- Remain present when interacting with staff members.
- Be patient with team members.
- Observe and analyze what actually transpires.
- Consider questions and directives thoughtfully before stating them.
An effective mindful leader works diligently to improve personal and professional connections with everyone in the organization. This typically means eliminating the idea of a military chain of command. A mindful leader must also possess the flexibility to initiate change when policies and procedures do not support an emotionally healthy work environment.
[Read More: Mindfulness at Work]
A Culture of Trust Treats People in an Emotionally Healthy and Safe Fashion
If there’s a key takeaway that people across professional landscapes can agree upon, it’s that we are emotional beings who do not turn off our feelings once we punch a clock. With that fact in mind, leadership teams can no longer run organizations as if people are cogs in a machine. By connecting with team members in a mindful and whole-person fashion, a culture of trust can be established that makes everyone feel safe and enjoy achieving company goals together. You can learn more about creating a culture that supports Emotional Safety here.