3 simple ways to cultivate trust among your entire team

By Bhushan Sethi

It happens to even the best of companies: Its leaders don’t learn of a valued employee’s reasons for leaving until their exit interview. It may have never occurred to management that the employee felt anything but happy in their work.

As leaders, of course we feel anxious, fearful, frustrated, and possibly even betrayed. However, our company’s research shows that employees trust their managers and colleagues more than entities such as the company’s board.

So where’s the disconnect? What are some of the reasons we’re grappling with a “Great Resignation?” Employees need to feel like they matter. An organization that demonstrates a commitment to inclusion communicates to its team that their voice counts. Workplace trust ultimately encourages workers to speak up and put forward a new idea or contrary opinion.

A lack of transparency, on the other hand, can create trust deficits. Remote workers in particular may feel isolated and excluded. So while a strong majority of executives and employees agree that leadership is inclusive, hybrid and remote workforces will test whether employees feel that they’re on equal footing.

As more companies adopt a hybrid working environment, they need to be mindful of building trust (with both in-person and remote employees), making sure their trust-building strategies are inclusive of their entire workforce. I offer a few suggestions on how to get started.

Get leadership on board

The saying that people join companies and leave managers may be true now more than ever. And it’s not surprising. There’s a disconnect in who is responsible for creating trust.

So who owns trust within an organization? Everyone, really. Building trust in organizational models is based on many factors that—just as in personal relationships—need every person to be present. And, like company culture, everyone in the organization is responsible.

But to be competitive or even viable in the future, a trust paradigm starts at the top. Clear messaging cascading from leadership is vital.

Our Next in Work Survey explored where trust intersects with culture, and where it falls short. While nearly two-thirds of business leaders think trust is the C-suite’s job, there’s often plenty of corporate rhetoric that doesn’t translate into action.

If your leaders do not overcommunicate, even a small lack of transparency can lead to doubts and dissolve trust. Like return-to-work policies that don’t account for employee safety, lack of outlined career paths, or vaccine mandates that aren’t clearly communicated. Corporate silence, combined with remote work, can amplify the wrong messages. So leaders need to be crystal clear.

Put steps in place that reinforce remote inclusivity

Employee trust levels are closely correlated to proximity: physical/in office, as well as organizational. A feeling of isolation in mixed-model work is real and can push employees away.

Be objective about overcoming proximity bias so your people aren’t left alone on Remote Island. Take a hard look at what’s being done to mitigate remote inequity:

  • You can build trust by creating an engaging virtual work culture in which diversity and inclusion are proactive.
  • Be mindful of eroding trust by not giving empathic feedback or by pressuring employees to work in person.
  • You can improve trust by encouraging remote employees to participate in upskilling—career development that impacts job relevance.

Proximity bias is quicksand: Managers and employees may not realize it’s happening until it’s too late. It’s human nature to form bonds with people you interact with on a daily basis. While talking about pets or kids over coffee, we form connections. Heading a mixed-model workforce (some employees in person full time, some hybrid, and some fully remote), which 33% of executives say they now do, presents its own set of challenges.

Building a culture of trust in a remote work environment is complex, but it’s not impossible. Without proper steps to bolster trust, remote inequity can raise its ugly head. And attrition risk could increase. So maintaining inclusivity for remote workers is vitally important.

Think ahead when communicating trust

Trust is the glue that binds people to your business, making it critical to corporate culture. Just like brand and reputation, amplifying trust through transparency is something all members of an organization must be committed to. However, 41% of leaders cite corporate culture as a top challenge in building trust. Executives are aware of the struggle to make firm-wide trust more than a sound bite.

Let your leaders amplify the trust message. And take the steps needed to improve it. However, when things go wrong in an organization and trust falls, you’ve got to raise your hand and say, “We’ve screwed up, here’s how to fix it, and these are the changes we’re implementing to make things better.”

If everyone is informed about the business they’re delivering, the trust volume grows. That includes meaningful feedback, delivered with a genuine desire to help. It’s invaluable to building trust within an organization. No one wants to toil away only to be met by a chorus of crickets.

Though many people are now working remotely, out of sight should not be out of mind. Soft skills that nurture inclusivity must be spelled out. Continued connections with remote workers scaffold employee trust. Despite this, executives often fail to realize that not all managers are skilled at leading remote teams or helping build an inclusive virtual environment. People are influenced by those closest to them; if leaders are unempathetic or toxic, be assured that the well has been fouled. It’s up to leadership to make sure all employees have trust enough to raise a virtual or in-person hand and be heard.

And remember that it’s important for everyone in your company to invest in championing trust-based values. These sorts of decisions affect the entire team. As a leader, you can make it clear that you’re all in it together.

Whether recruiting or managing, laying out a planned process can prevent employees from leaving. So show up and put employee fear and anxiety about the unknown to rest. Let people know they matter. And grow the trust that can avert a resignation crisis at your door.

Bhushan Sethi is a leader of people and organization at PwC. He works with business leaders to create strategies for their companies that enable sustainable business, financial, regulatory, and customer outcomes.

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