Want engaged employees? First create a culture of trust

In Top Trust Myths: 1 of 2: Trust Takes Time, author Charles Green argues against the popular saying that “Trust takes a long time to build and only a few moments to be destroyed.” Green makes the point that sometimes we instantly trust, like at the physician’s office, (or I’d say the hair stylist—because is there any other reason we’d let a compete stranger take a pair of scissors to our head?), and he makes sense.

But whether you believe trust is built slowly or is given instantly, you can’t argue that trust isn’t important. Without trust, relationships can stagnate, deteriorate, or never develop at all, and this is as true in the workplace as anywhere else.

The connection between employee engagement and trust

Lots of people have different definitions of  “employment engagement,” but I like this one from Kevin Kruse best: “Employee engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals.”

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It may be true, as we could infer from Green’s theory, that a new employee starts a brand new job fully prepared to trust his new employer without the employer having to do a whole bunch to gain said trust. But that doesn’t mean trust can’t be broken. So what happens when the trust goes kerplunk, and the employee’s interest in the job goes right along with it?

Um … you’re gonna have one disengaged employee on your hands, that’s what.

Just like the friendship that fades and the romance that fizzles, once the employee loses trust in you and/or the rest of the leadership team, he’ll start to emotionally check out.

Let’s rewind.

How to keep the trust

Helen Richardson, EdD, coach, consultant, and founder of A New Way to Think About Work? says that work is a relationship. I think she’s right. That being said, how does an employer keep the trust? The same way anyone keeps trust in a relationship. That’s how.

For example:

  • Say what you mean and mean what you say. Fond of saying how important employees are to your success (or something like that) but then regularly fail to solicit employee input, fairly handle employee grievances, or appreciate when employees put in extra effort? Employees will surely notice the difference between what you say you believe and how you act, and they’ll learn to distrust you as a result.
  • Treat people right. This is such a no brainer, but many employers still don’t get it. You can’t treat an employee like crap (or like you believe he’s an incompetent boob who can’t form a decent thought without your oversight) and expect he’ll be emotionally invested in what’s important to you.
  • Be willing to give to get. Want trust? Give trust. Don’t encourage micromanagement, second guessing, and looking over employees’ shoulders 24/7 waiting for mistakes to happen.
  • Invest in good management. Your company culture rests with leadership, period. If your leadership proves itself unworthy of employee trust, then employees won’t trust, and lack of engagement won’t be far behind.

Experts can debate all day long about the importance (or lack thereof) of engagement (or whatever the buzzword of the moment is to describe what motivates employees to give a darn and do a good job), but no matter what else changes, this will remain:

Without trust, you’ve got nothing. If employees don’t believe you can be trusted to look out for them or at least tell the truth, they’ll never see the value in investing emotionally in your organization.

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