12 Actionables for Cultivating Trust in the Workplace

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Carrots and Sticks Don't Work" by Paul Marciano. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What does it mean to have consideration and trust in the workplace? What actions can you take to be more considerate to your employees?

The simple act of acknowledging an employee as an individual can go a long way in terms of their job performance. These acts of consideration can be as small as asking somebody how their day is going or trusting them with ownership of a project so they don’t just feel like a cog.

Here are some steps you can take to make your employees feel like their job isn’t just a paycheck.

The Importance of Trust in the Workplace

Trust in the workplace is confidence in a person and the absence of questioning of the person’s motives. 

Trust engenders engagement by giving the employee more ownership over her work and not wanting to let the supervisor down. Trusted employees feel more comfortable pitching risky ideas, and they’re more receptive to change as they believe the employer has the employees’ best interests at heart.

In a culture of distrust, ideas are not shared for fear of others exploiting or disparaging them. Motives are constantly questioned – “what is this person up to now?” Untrusting people assume the worst. It crowds out productive thinking.

Some people start out trusting by default, but for others, trust takes years to build. A single mistrustful step can shatter trust like pottery.  

Actionables for Trust

  1. Provide autonomy and decision-making authority.
  2. Keep your word on promises and commitments.
  3. Give bad news directly to an employee without sugarcoating; don’t let gossip spread.
  4. Let employees spend company money within certain limits.
  5. Reassure anxious employees that you trust them to do the work.
  6. Avoid signaling mistrust through micromanagement or intense monitoring programs. Posing constraints makes people look for ways to circumvent them.
  7. Give credit where credit is due; don’t misattribute credit.
  8. Explain thoroughly when you override someone else’s decision, or they won’t trust you to uphold their decisions in the future.
  9. Probe when you feel an employee suddenly starts treating you differently, like withholding information – she may not trust you enough to confide.
  10. Admit mistakes when you make them, and accept responsibility when your team fails.
  11. If you’ve messed up, admit that you were wrong, apologize, and ask for another chance. Take personal responsibility rather than finger pointing.
  12. If you’re starting with a negative reputation, address this upfront and get back to neutral ASAP.

Consideration in the Workplace

Consideration is giving careful thought to a person. Acknowledging that the person is human and not just a cog develops loyalty, not just in the recipient but also in teammates who witness considerate behavior. This inspires people to show up for work other than to receive a paycheck.

In contrast, acts of selfishness by the company promote tit for tat behavior. The employee has little faith the company cares. If the company doesn’t care about the employee, why should the employee care about the company?

Building a personal connection with employees is important to pave the way for consideration opportunities. The more connected an employee feels to her supervisor, the more she’ll open about personal issues, which will create opportunities for consideration by the supervisor. This creates a virtuous cycle.

Actionables for Consideration

  • Ask specific questions about the employee’s life to demonstrate interest and learn more. This provides more opportunities to be considerate, since they feel more comfortable brining personal issues to you (within reason).
  • Notice when employees are not themselves and tell them you’re concerned.
  • Show proactive consideration by connecting the employee to things she would like.
  • Ask employees for input before big decisions that affect their jobs.
  • Reinforce team members who act considerately.
  • Encourage employees to go home when sick.
  • Be empathetic and flexible during personal or family issues. Trust the person to make the right decision for the job, and don’t treat her like a slacker.
  • Benefit more than just the employee, like the company that gave Turkey dinners to all employees.
  • Deliver bad news personally.
  • Support employees’ goals outside of work, like the company that gave each employee $10 for every pound lost, and paid for discounts off memberships to Weight Watchers.
  • Shut off your phone when talking with employees.
  • Begin meetings on time and end early if possible.
  • Ask staff how to shorten meetings or limit attendance.
  • Celebrate birthdays and work anniversaries.
  • Support creature comforts – make the work environment comfortable, not noisy, and give food when they’re pushing extra hard.
  • Set up flexible work times so the employee can schedule work at her convenience.
  • Let people personalize their workspace, bringing in photos.
12 Actionables for Cultivating Trust in the Workplace

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  • How to motivate your employees and teammates to do a better job
  • How to know if you're a terrible manager
  • Why the carrot and stick motivation model doesn't work anymore—and what to do instead

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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