Avoid These 3 Behaviors That Erode Organizational Trust - Bonfyre

Avoid These 3 Behaviors That Erode Organizational Trust

3 min

Ignoring the results of your last employee engagement survey may be doing more damage to your corporate culture than you realize.

After years of business articles and advice on how building positive workplace cultures and a better employee experience can positively impact business goals, you might expect that organizational trust would be on the rise. However, according to a recent EY study, less than half of global professionals trust their employer, boss or colleagues.

With a recent focus on employee experience, why is there still a disconnect between leaders’ and employees’ perceptions of trust? Unfortunately, implementing a new culture initiative to improve trust simply isn’t enough. Relationships are the foundation of trust. As in the rest of our daily lives, it takes time to build relationships in the workplace.

When building trust in the workplace, you must watch out for behaviors that can sabotage your efforts. If these behaviors go unrecognized and unchecked, you may actually be eroding organizational trust rather than strengthening it.

Cutting corners to achieve goals

Business moves faster than ever today thanks to technological advances. Regrettably, operational speed can have a negative impact on how employees perceive trust.

“Leaders may feel they need to push or delay certain initiatives or projects to hit an important deadline or goal. Unfortunately, the initiatives that get pushed aside or overlooked to achieve those goals are often things that have an impact on the employees’ view of trust. Items such as team-building activities, training courses, special projects or team meetings,” says Rob Seay, Employee Experience Director at Bonfyre.

Working towards a shared company goal can build trust among co-workers. However, cutting culture and relationship building initiatives when resources are scarce may have the exact opposite effect, eroding organizational trust. Operating at a speed where employees feel they are juggling–even dropping–basic tasks for an extended period of time can leave them feeling more like operational assets than valued team members.

Inconsistencies between words and actions

In EY’s Trust in the Workplace survey, respondents reported “delivering on promises” was the most critical factor in determining trust in employers. Many companies work to under-promise and over-deliver to customers, but forget to apply the concept to their employees. Employees notice when this happens, even if management is unaware.

Related: How Can Internal Comms Support Corporate Core Values?

In his book, Everybody Matters, Bob Chapman shares how after writing Barry-Wehmiller’s Guiding Principles of Leadership, he shared the document with employees to see how well leaders’ principles aligned with their actions. By listening, he discovered discrepancies between their new principles and their current behaviors.

When Chapman learned manufacturing supplies were locked in cages due to fear of theft, he knew it conflicted with their new principle of trust. Chapman decided to remove those locks along with several other demeaning practices that were misaligned with their new principles and undermined trust with his employees.

Failing to close the feedback loop when you solicit employee feedback is another common complaint, especially when it comes to employee engagement surveys. “It requires discipline to listen to your employees’ feedback. Ask the questions, but don’t jump to conclusions. Be fully engaged. Listen to everything they are giving you feedback on,” Seay says.

“You have to be careful; if the trust isn’t there, you may only get one chance. If you ask a question, employees may open up and share information. But if you give them a reason not to trust you, the next time you ask they may not be as open.”

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Insufficient or delayed communication

Fifty-nine percent of employee respondents in EY’s study said another factor in determining trust was whether their employers “communicated openly/transparently.” Lack of clear and timely communication can undermine trust in any relationship.

Waiting too long to answer employees’ specific questions can allow conspiracy theories to brew around your workplace. “Employees will form their own story in their head if they don’t have information,” Seay says. “My recommendation to leaders, to managers, to people I’ve worked with is to always err on the side of over-communicating.”

Seay says sharing a message, even without all the details, can help build trust with employees. This can be as simple as an announcement letting employees know the current state of affairs in a gesture of transparency, and promising more details as they come. “Sometimes, a simple statement like that can mean a world of difference to employees,” Seay says.

When building organizational trust, it’s vital that your initiatives align with the words and actions of your managers and leaders. A corporate environment built on trust doesn’t develop overnight or with a single new culture initiative. It takes time to build workplace relationships that will lead to trust among coworkers. By taking time to consider these three areas, you can avoid undermining trust and fully support your culture and trust initiatives. 

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