2020-07-09 HR Examiner article trust by dr todd dewett photo img AdobeStock_329144168 crop 544x234px.jpg

“Regardless of how some set of circumstances has created a particular level of trust, trust can be increased.” - Dr. Todd Dewett

How to Increase Trust

According to a significant amount of research, we are facing a huge trust crisis at work. There are many reasons:  economic shifts causing layoffs, the persistent use of non-employee labor to save money, increases in automation, bad bosses, you name it! The average employee reality has certainly changed.

Employees work longer. Bosses take on a slippery slope of ever widening responsibilities. Organizations are forced to try to do more with less.  As a result, people slip into safety mode. They look out for themselves. They do the minimum. Trust erodes.

What a shame since we know that trust is associated with talent retention, higher morale, stronger performance, and a willingness to support and engage in innovation.

We also know that no matter how bad the economy is, no matter how tough the competition, and no matter how bloody the budget, any professional can still build higher trust with others at work.


Dr. Todd Dewett | Founding member, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board

Stated differently: regardless of how some set of circumstances has created a particular level of trust, trust can be increased.

Let’s be clear:  the answer is not finding some way to give the team more money or some type of perk. Money and perks are often enjoyed, but that doesn’t build trust. Just because a guy you don’t like gives you a dollar or a delicious slice of pizza, that doesn’t mean you now like him.

It’s all about your relationships and perceptions of integrity.

Let’s think about one boss. We’ll call her Michelle. Michelle faces a tough situation. A key employee just retired and she has no budget to replace him. Bonuses were nearly nonexistent this year. Her group was forced to take on a large group of new tasks due to a recent reorganization. Her team is stressed, suspicious of management, and worried about what might happen tomorrow. Trust is weak.

Michelle is not rare. There are a million Michelle’s managing today. Here is what I want every single one of them to know. Regardless of the circumstances, you can maintain and build trust – at least between you and your team.

I want you to adopt this simple model of trust building: let them know you, help them believe in you, and watch them trust you. A starting assumption:  they know your work performance is consistently strong.

However, being “good at your job” isn’t enough to build a high level of trust.

First, let them know you. In the office we too often draw imaginary lines that we feel we are supposed to draw in order to separate professional life from personal life. We do this so much that we over indulge our scrubbed and polished professional persona to the point that relationships are distant and cold. What we need is more authentic relationships. Yes, that means a bit more personal, not just professional. You don’t have to be best friends, but you do need to add little humanity to your relationships. Let down the wall just a little bit and allow them to see who you are as a person. When you do, you might be surprised how others reciprocate.

Next, help them believe in you. Remember, it’s a given your performance is strong, but that alone will not translate into trust.  In many ways, your task performance becomes fully recognized and appreciated depending on it’s surrounding context: do they know and somewhat like you, do you always work hard, are you one of the good guys always helping others, do you hold yourself to the same standards you ask of others, do you share the spotlight on wins and the pain on setbacks, and do you seek their input when appropriate?  These things make you fair and supportive.

That’s when the magic happens. Your strong performance has now been coupled with clear indicators of integrity – that’s fuel for trust.  As trust grows, the team will help you more, they will more readily support your decisions, and they will be more willing to take risks on your behalf in support of change and innovation.

Oh, by the way – it doesn’t cost a dime. You’re welcome. Circumstances at work change, and sometimes they can be quite difficult. The formula for trust building, however, does not change.

It’s not about giving them money or other perks. It’s not completely dependent on external factors such as the economy. It’s really determined by the quality of the relationships you build. Let them know you. Help them believe in you. Then, trust happens, and only then can you build a team happy to stick with you even when times are rough.

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photo of artist Ray Sumser
A Talk with Ray Sumser

Ray Sumser is a multimedia artist whose work explores underlying structural analogies between diverse art disciplines.