Being an HR Executive during the pandemic and the subsequent “great resignation” has been a crazy journey, to say the least. I have learned more about HR law than in any years previous because of special COVID rules, but more importantly, I have learned so much about people. I have learned that the pandemic helped people focus on what is important to them. They asked themselves if they were happy with their current situation…their home, their marriage, and their career. And the result has been an increase in home renovations, divorces, and career changes over the past 2.5 years. People have set new standards and they have created boundaries around these standards. In many ways, it is a new world, especially for employers.
I have spent considerable time interviewing people that are looking for a job and listening to what is important to them as they consider a change. They always want to know about the culture of the organization and the way their potential boss manages people. They want transparent communicative leaders, and they have a STRONG disdain for the micro-manager. It is such a common complaint that I am starting to think there is a nationwide problem with micro-managing people! I hope not, because the root of micro-managing people is distrust. When an employee does not feel trusted it will have a negative impact on your culture. And, in the age of the “great resignation” we must be Guardians of the Culture. The Culture of Trust.
When an employee does not feel trusted to do the job they were hired to do, a resentment will grow. As they are told what to do, how to do it, when to do it, how long it should take, and then are nagged while doing it, they will have thoughts like, “She must think I am an idiot,” or “If he has enough time to be this close to my work, he should just do it – he does not need me.” An innovative employee will see no room for growth when they are not even free to use the very skills they were hired to use. Very rarely will a high-performing employee tolerate a micro-manager. They will find employment elsewhere as shown by the “great resignation.”
When a manager chooses to micromanage, they create a culture of distrust. The leader sets the tone. If the tone is saying “I don’t trust you,” then if is fair to assume the staff will return the sentiment and have no trust for the employer/manager either. The dark side of this, it will not stay with one employee; it will make its way throughout the entire organization. Since we know from Peter Drucker that, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” we must focus on a culture of trust to attract and retain the best and brightest.
We do not talk about trust in the workplace enough. Why? Because it can be a hard conversation when you do not trust those you work with and/or you do not feel trusted by those you work with. This article is meant to start the conversation. What does trust in the workplace mean? How do we build trust in the workplace? Can we repair broken trust?
What does trust in the workplace mean?
It can mean many things, so I asked a few professional friends who are in management or leadership roles what it meant to them. Their answers are below, and they have a common thread – integrity.
- It means that I can trust you to do the work you said you were going to do by the time you promised to do it.
- It means I can trust you to act in the best interest of the organization versus personal or departmental agendas.
- It means you will not undermine the way I lead my department but allow me autonomy in leading it.
- It means you will tell me when you disagree or have feedback that will make the result better.
- It means you will stand in alignment with the decisions made as a leadership team when you explain the decisions to your staff. Owning the strategic direction, together.
- It means you will not gossip about me or other employees (to me).
How do we build trust in the workplace?
- Active listening – Genuinely listening to each other is foundational for positive workplace relationships. When your co-workers really feel heard, it can go a long way to building trust. You are investing in what they care about.
- Transparency – Communication should be honest and respectful. Of course, sometimes, honesty can be tough. It can be easier to tell others what they prefer to hear, especially during tough times because we may be averse to conflict. However, by being honest with others while being sensitive to their feelings, trust is created.
- Integrity – Let your “yes” be a “yes” …. When you say you will so something….do it and communicate the results. When you say you agree – act like you agree.
- Empathy – We are HUMANS working together. We have good days and bad ones. We experience illness, injury, loss, and disappointment. We cannot always see the struggle others have, the default is kindness and understanding.
Can we repair broken trust?
I have always been a “glass half full” kind of woman and I am the queen of second chances, so of course I believe that trust can be restored. I think that a healthy relationship can rebound and sometimes it is even stronger on the other side of conflict. There are crucial factors that will determine whether healing can happen.
- Is the relationship healthy (generally speaking)? Or are there are willful and intentional acts of betrayal and/or other toxic traits in the relationship? Both parties need to come from a place of wanting the relationship to be better. There must be alignment here. One person wanting it will not work.
- The Past. Trust cannot be restored if we pretend that problems do not exist. We must acknowledge when violations of trust occur between humans. We must trust they can be resolved. It does not have to be the end of the relationship. Bring the issue into the light.
- Owning Our Part and Apologizing. Try to look at the situation from the other person’s point of view. Can you see where your actions could have contributed to the conflict? Identify what you could have done differently and apologize for your actions. That is all we can do. We can only own our own behavior. However, some apologies sound like this, “I am sorry you feel that way.” That, my friend, is not an apology because you have not addressed your actions. You are apologizing for the feelings of another…something you cannot control. According to Psychology Today1, “It is a non-apology used to deflect, pretend to apologize and win the disagreement by placing blame back on the individual for their feelings.” It is listed as a gaslighting tool. The best apologies are sincere and show care for how you hurt the other person by your own behaviors. If you feel you are blameless, it is better not to apologize than to offer a toxic apology, as it will only deepen the trust issues.
- Going Forward. Even the most perfect apology will fail if the subsequent behavior is not changed. Plan on how to move forward with each other. What are the expectations? What does accountability look like? They will want to consistently practice building trust (as described above). It may take time to build the trust again. How much time? It is usually most likely proportional to the severity of the cause of the broken trust. A few missed deadlines is one thing but undermining a team is another. However, if both parties are willing to work at it, trust can be restored with integrity and honesty. The relationship may even be stronger for it.
As an HR professional I can say without a doubt that our employees long to be trusted to do the work they were hired to do. A trusted employee is happier, more productive, and certainly more innovative. It is good for the business culture and the bottom-line to be Guardians of the Culture, the Culture of Trust.