Trust and the Future of Work

At the heart of every business is trust. But this all-important factor seems to be disappearing from everyday business vocabulary, with nearly one in four employees saying they don't trust their employer and only about half of employees saying their employer is open with them. What happened to the tradition of trust and how can we bring it back to an evolving workplace environment?

Changing Trust Environment

Gone are the days of agreeing to significant business transactions with a handshake. Even simple negotiations and contracts now involve extensive legal documents and non-disclosure agreements. As the future of work transitions from vertical hierarchies to horizontal organizations, more competition is introduced, which often pits individuals against each other and leads to a lessening of trust.

However, without trust, business doesn't work. Employees and managers need to work together within and outside of their organizations to create mutually beneficial, trusting relationships. No matter how horizontal and optimized an organization is for the future of work, it all falls apart without trust.

Trusting versus Trustworthiness

There are two ways to look at the downfall in trust: are business and managers less trustworthy, or are we less likely to trust them? The answer may lie somewhere in the middle. While it is important for employees and organizations to be trustworthy by being honest, open, and personal, the people on the other side of the equation also need to trust and not be afraid to put themselves out there to build a strong relationship. Trust is a give and take principle, meaning not one entity is entirely responsible for a successful outcome.

Trust Equation

According to trust expert Charles H. Green, trustworthiness can be boiled down to a simple equation:

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In this equation, an organization or individual increases their trustworthiness with good credibility (the believable words they speak), reliability (the delivered actions they perform), and intimacy (the security people feel sharing information with them). The sum of those qualities is divided by self-orientation, or a focus outside of one's self and a willingness to help others. Therefore, the less self-oriented a person is, the higher their trustworthiness. These principles all work together to build trustworthiness and can't be used separately, which means that a manager who helps employees feel safe but doesn't deliver on promises probably doesn't have a very high trustworthiness "score".

How to Build Trust

Although trust has taken a downfall in recent years, that doesn't mean that it can't be recovered. At the heart of it, trust comes down to personal relationships and actions. You can trust that a large company has good intentions and is believable, but that belief is based on the actions of individuals within the organization. To build trust within our own companies and circles of business influence, we must increase our personal responsibility and relationships, which can be accomplished with the following actions:

  • Make more promises and keep them. Even small promises, like sending an email on time or sticking to a scheduled meeting, can go far in building trust. When employees and customers can trust you on small things, they will learn to trust you when the stakes are higher.
  • Be personable. In the future of work, managers aren't just nameless people who sit on pedestals. People are more likely to trust people they know on a somewhat personal basis, so don't be afraid to share personal information (within reason) and connect with others on a more friendly level.
  • Admit when you don't know something. Trust is built when people know you are honest and open. If you don't know the answer to something, admit it and then work to find a solution.

Trust is reciprocal, so the more you trust someone, the more they will likely trust you. Trusting someone takes a risk, so don't be afraid to put yourself out there to take the first risky step to demonstrating trust. As you build trust within your organization and with other companies and customers, you business will flourish and the network of trust can spread.

How do you build trust in your organization and career?