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The Issue of Trust in Today’s Workforce

Employees in all job grades want to trust the people they work with. They want to trust their co-workers, their bosses, and the company leaders where they work.

Trends in recent employee engagement studies have revealed there is a declining spirit of trust. Actually the results are mixed in a strange sort of way.

In a recent study I conducted using my own base of social media followers, 63% of respondents said company leadership was trusted the least. The boss only got challenged by 16% while co-workers were mistrusted by 21% of the people answering the survey.

For many years, when employees were asked about trust at work, they pointed to their bosses as being the problem. Not so any more. Even co-worker trust was not a real issue.

The biggest gaps show up when talking about leadership at the top of the business. C-suite leaders are getting challenged by employees.

Internal and external surveys are showing that we have a growing chasm of trust between the top-of-house leaders and the employee masses.

How can that be?

First, it seems there is a credibility issue. Leaders may blame it on the pace of business. That means, things are moving so darn fast, decisions have to get made then changed right away.

However, workers see it as a flip-flop. The seeming flip flop of decisions cause employees to doubt the sincerity of what is coming from on high.

Next there is a reality issue. Workers don’t think senior leaders are adequately tuned in to the challenges on the front line. Budget cuts reduce jobs, leaving the survivors to struggle with doubled and tripled work loads to sustain revenue numbers that are not declining.

Seeing no actual decline in a company’s revenue leads workers to believe the leaders are not present, knowing what is really required to produce the outcome.

In addition we see a sociability issue. The younger workforce is asking their company to become socially responsible for social significance. Whether that is for carbon footprint reduction, social justice, or diversity, leaders are under pressure to perform. Those who turn blind eyes to these issues are not trusted.

What’s the Fix?

Building trust impacts all areas of our life. When we meet someone new, we start down the path for seeking trust by asking and answering questions.

The questions help inform us about the other party. Do we like the same things? Is there a common ground from which we can start building our relationship? The list of key questions can be long.

Employees do the same thing. We all show up to work with fundamental questions in our mind. The company leader/manager who does the best job of answering our questions gets our respect and trust.

My own experience as an executive and now, coach, has shown me six fundamental areas for the questions. All of the questions fall into one of these six buckets. I’m going to quickly list each section.

First, the People questions – do I even want to be here? Basic but powerful.

Next the Purpose – what is this team about and why do we exist?

Then the Plan questions – what is the plan we must follow to win?

Following those, there are the Practice questions – how do we operate? Systems, policies, and procedures can make or break our success.

Next you find Performance questions – how will I be scored and rated? Will the system be fair?

Lastly, we see Payoff questions – was it worth it? Should I do it over again?

Leaders Can Make a Difference

If you manage a team, think about any and all of the issues you face keeping the team inspired, motivated, and moving forward. I’ll bet you a nice steak dinner your team’s questions will fall into one of those six buckets.

Knowing these six secrets can radically improve your ability as a leader to increase the trust within your team. Answer the questions well and you will see your team transform.

Ignore the questions or give half-hearted answers and your trust scores will be very low.

I and a colleague, Roger Ferguson, have made a deep dive into this subject with our new book Trust at Work.” My coaching clients like ExxonMobil, Coca-Cola, and UPS have taken these directions and seen great results. You can too.

trust at work

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