Employee Trust: How to Scale Relationships


April 26, 2023

Scale Trusted Employee Relationships

One of the most troubling implications of today’s disconnected workplace is the fundamental lack of employee trust within teams and departments.

Edelman’s 2023 Trust Barometer details this reality in depth. They found that employees are now facing “economic uncertainty without a trust safety net,” and suggest that not having a high level of average employee trust at work further compounds the negative macro-economic crisis. Lack of a culture of trust is one of the costliest problems for any company, one not easily (or quickly) rectified. This is a high impact problem, as a suffering company culture has expansive implications on business success.

So, how can you increase the level of trust at your company? We’ll share what research tells us, along with the key trends our own extensive data reveals.

How Does Employee Trust Actually Affect Company Culture?

Cultivating trust is a key ingredient to any successful business and conversely, research clearly shows lack of trust has detrimental effects.

As Stephen M. R. Covey writes in The Speed of Trust, “When trust goes down (in a relationship, on a team, in an organization, or with a partner or customer), speed goes down and cost goes up.… The inverse is equally true: When trust goes up, cost goes down, and speed goes up.” The benefits to cultivating a culture of trust are immense, as numerous studies from the Great Place To Work Institute have identified that companies with a culture of trust have:  

  • Stock market returns approximately 2x to 3x greater than the market average
  • Turnover rates that are approximately 50% lower than industry competitors
  • Increased innovation, customer satisfaction, employee engagement, and organizational agility 

Thankfully, even if you feel like a lack of trust is occurring at a large scale in your organization, there are practical steps companies can take to course correct: we explore 10 ways to improve company culture here. 

How Is Workplace Trust Built?

Neuroscience gives us a great foundation for where we need to start when building high-trust organizations. As human beings, our brains are wired for connection.  Throughout the course of human history, we’ve leaned on relationships as a key means of survival. Over time, we developed an ability to bond with those we trust and to quickly detect enemies.  In a nutshell, the key to trust with employees is through relationships, namely meaningful relationships that are founded in psychological safety.

Below are the key elements needed to build trusted relationships at work; accelerated trust-building works when all of these elements work together in unison.   

#1: Invest in Your Employee Trust Fund: Connect People With Shared Experiences

If your goal is to more quickly build trust within your company, it’s critical to intelligently connect people who have at least some degree of shared experiences. That could be as simple as connecting two people who are both people managers, or as nuanced as a shared source of fulfillment at work. This foundation provides a level of understanding that will foster a higher degree of connection and expedite the process of trust building.

“I feel very safe talking about anything with my conversation partner. It’s rare that I build that type of trust this quickly but we are a good match, pushing each other outside of our comfort zones in an impactful way.” —Equitable Employee

#2: Create Initiatiors of Trust: Go Beyond the Water Cooler

Bringing the right people together isn’t enough on its own. There are plenty of ways to have transactional conversations on Teams or talk about what you did over the weekend on Slack. The key is to cultivate a deeper conversation that goes beyond the surface level. In over 100,000 conversations on the Imperative platform, we’ve seen the power of intentional questions that enable employees to explore innovative ideas, challenge themselves to grow and ultimately develop trusted relationships.  

In our recent research, we found that 83% of employees surveyed were willing to invest up to 2.5 hours per week on trusted relationships at work, but the large majority didn’t know where or how to start.  A key barrier they cited was a lack of the skills needed to build the most necessary work relationships.

#3: Build Positive Relationships: Practice Reciprocity

After the foundation of shared experiences has been laid, the next key is reciprocity. Deceivingly simple, it essentially means leveling the playing field by ensuring equal levels of self-disclosure in a conversation.  Reciprocity is a simple back and forth that helps facilitate trust and psychological safety. 

This practice is baked into the Imperative platform, where conversations are guided with a series of questions that each person answers. The mutual exchange increases feelings of connection and equity, laying the necessary groundwork for trust.

“In our virtual world we needed a way to create trust and build deeper relationships between colleagues. This isn’t just about individual growth. This is about strengthening the fabric of an organization and its workforce.” —Tech Employee

#4: Integrate Trust into Company Culture: Dedicate Time & Space… On the Regular

In our 2022 study on connection at work, employees told us that a lack of space to have meaningful connection was among the top four barriers to forming trust with employees at work. Across all the data, it was clear employees need more support to actually make connections and have meaningful conversations. 

They need not only a mechanism that enables this, they also need the permission from leadership amd trust in management to take part. Trust doesn’t happen by accident— it requires intention, permission and a pathway employees can access on an ongoing basis. That’s why organizations have to consider practical steps to making trust an organizational initiative.  

According to relationship expert Shasta Nelson, consistency is a core ingredient of meaningful connection at work. Consistency is difficult to scale without some sort of infrastructure, yet without it, the trust that’s been built isn’t sustained or activated.

“By being connected through this work, we have built stronger trust and a relationship that will only help us as we move forward.” —Financial Employee

Businesses Move at the Speed of Workplace Trust

Strategically investing in increasing trust at your organization doesn’t have to be complicated. Understanding what’s required to build trust and equipping your people with the right tools is all it takes. Unleashing the power of trusted relationships at scale is transformative for any organization and for each individual employee…and it’s a formula Imperative has successfully used for over 100,000 powerful, trust-building conversations on our platform.

Learn more about how we can help you fast-track trust at your organization.

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