The nuances of trust in the workplace

3 min read

Trust is the assured belief and reliance on the character and integrity of a person, group or system, underpinning mutual understanding, cooperation, and a sense of security

– Oxford Dictionary definition.

Trust permeates every aspect of our lives, intertwined in every one of our experiences. It encompasses our sense of security in a professional setting, our reliance on the tools and machinery in construction sites, the assurance we seek in technology companies, and above all, it shapes the foundation for meaningful relationships. Trust emerges as the culmination of every encounter, thought, and emotion we experience. Therefore, it can be said that if you live in a trusted environment, it will be manifested through your behaviours.

Its significance extends to the realm of business, where trust plays a pivotal role in ensuring the seamless functioning of daily operations. There is a clear outcome of building trust which benefits a business as a whole. American neuroeconomist Dr Paul Zak, published in the Harvard Business Review and found that “employees at high-trust companies report 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 13% fewer sick days and 50% higher productivity”.

Drawing a parallel to subjective experiences, consider the notion of pain; doctors employ a pain scale, rating distress from 0 to 10, with 0 representing an absence of pain and 10 denoting excruciating agony. However, there exists no definitive diagnostic criterion establishing what constitutes a level 10 on the pain scale for each individual. This is because pain cannot be felt by those who do not directly experience it. Similarly, trust remains a personal and deeply individualised experience, observed solely through the actions of the individual.

Understanding the key facets of trust is crucial: it remains subjective, defying standardisation, yet it possesses the potential to be fostered and nurtured. Trust is what you say it is, yet, through one’s life experiences, and benchmarked against your own expectations, it can be crafted for good.

Leaders are critical to building trust. There has been a “significant shift in what the modern workforce expects from those at the top.” Dr John Blakey, a global CEO coach and founder of The Trusted Executive, stated that people like him were “trained not to show weakness as a leader. You were trained to project an image of being all-knowing, all-powerful. But in a modern world of trust, people want to work for human beings. When your leader is in the right place at the right time, shows a bit of vulnerability, admits to having bad days and sleepless nights, it connects them at a human level with the people around them. And that builds trust.” This is why it is crucial for a leader to set the standard that employees will look up to.

A doctor will never try to experience your pain level; however, they do utilise it as a valuable tool to effectively treat a patient. This can be applied to the idea of trust, by simply asking employees what their perceived levels of trust are within their area of the organisation – how they experience it. By understanding the nuances of trust, we can unlock its transformative potential and create a foundation for high performance in life and business.

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