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Employees engaging in a meeting because they have trust in the company
6 Min Read

3 Simple Ways to Build Trust In The Workplace


When you research companies that tout their “strong company cultures,” you’ll often see them promoting things like team happy hours, free lunches or gym memberships. But do any of those things actually help build trust in the workplace? While those are great perks, they can be expensive and don’t get at the root of what makes people truly love their work. Think about it: if you’re sitting at lunch and dreading the rest of your afternoon tasks, does it really matter that you got free Chipotle?

At 15Five, we care a lot about the things that make employees actually want to go to work in the morning. Our survey insights solution helps leaders pinpoint company culture issues based on three core engagement conditions (Meaning, Safety, and Capacity) and 14 drivers of engagement, like PTO, Autonomy, and Fairness.

Today, I’m going to talk about one of the 14 drivers that we’ve personally worked to improve on our team: Trust. We define this employee engagement driver as “the feeling of trust and respect in an employee’s work environment, particularly with those who the employee works most closely with.” Basically, ensuring that your employees feel like you and their colleagues have their back.

So What’s The Secret to Building Trust in The Workplace?

One of my favorite books around the concept of trust at work is (appropriately named) The Trust Factor, by neuroscientist Paul Zak.

Zak is the creator a framework called OXYTOCIN, with each letter symbolizing a key element of creating trust within your company culture. It’s scientifically grounded in experiments he conducted where he would gauge a worker’s oxytocin (also known as “the love hormone”) levels before and after participating in several trust-boosting activities.

Zak has proven that trust can truly make or break whether an employee wants to stay at your business. In fact, he cites that a 10% increase in an employees’ trust in his or her leadership team creates the same levels of work engagement as a 36% salary increase. Think about that statistic when you’re budgeting for that expensive team-building exercise that you think will fix all your cultural pain points.

If you can identify with a lack of trust in your company culture, here are three tips to help create a better sense of alliance at work, based on examples from the book and initiatives from our own team at 15Five:

1 – Cultivate a Culture of Openness

We define our employees at 15Five as “extraordinary people who can be trusted to do what’s best for the company.” One of the key ways to create a culture of individuals who act in your company’s best interests is by defaulting to openness whenever possible.

According to Zak, only 40% of employees feel like they are well informed about their company’s goals, strategies, and tactics. If your employees don’t know why they are doing what they are doing, how can you expect them to trust your leaders when they implement bigger changes or announce new strategies?

Creating a transparent work environment is easier than you would think. At 15Five, we openly share company performance results every quarter, and we expect trust and confidentiality from our employees in return. In The Trust Factor, Zak spotlights Morning Star Farms as a shining example of a company that empowers their team through openness. They not only approach their business performance with candor, but they pay for their employees to take training classes to better understand the metrics in their reports.

Even if you don’t have the training budget to school every one of your employees in financial modeling 101, try devoting an hour in your next all-team meeting to sharing something new about your company’s vision. The questions and curiosity you’ll receive from your team in return will only motivate you to create additional opportunities for transparency.

2 – Take a Second to Celebrate Wins

The average turnover rate for part-time retail industry workers is 27%. At The Container Store, it’s 10%. Why? Because they are the top of their game when it comes to celebrating their employees. Paul Zak shares in his book that any employee who has worked for The Container Store for at least 10 years earns a plaque on their “Wall of Fame” and is flown to their headquarters in Dallas for a weekend of personal celebration.

While every employee wants to receive ovation differently, people want to know that the work they are doing is valued. According to Zak, organizations with just one recognition program report lower turnover rates than those without any programs, and 79% employees in one survey cited a “lack of appreciation” as a reason why they leave their jobs.

Find one or two small ways to integrate celebration into your daily routines at work. At 15Five, we celebrate new sales deals by having our reps blow a vuvuzela horn anytime they close a deal. We also celebrate quarterly spotlight employees and  “Core Value Legends” (one person who goes above and beyond to embody our core company values) at our Q1 company meetings each year. These are small routines that have been built into our core culture and create greater trust and motivation between our colleagues and our leadership.

3 – Insist on Autonomy

Autonomy, defined in The Trust Factor as Yield, is the ability to choose how you complete your work. Autonomy creates freedom to complete your work as you want without every detail being micromanaged. And this freedom is a really big deal to employees. So important, in fact, that a survey by Citigroup reported that employees would be willing to give up a 20% raise for greater autonomy over their work.

Creating autonomy is hard. On the 15Five marketing team, we took a team assessment called The Color Code, with every color correlating to a core motivator for that person. More than half of our team scored high as a red personality, motivated by power. Needless to say, on a team with that many power-hungry people, autonomy hasn’t always been easy for us.

One simple improvement that has created better autonomy for our team is continually asking for feedback. Whether that feedback is gleaned in the form of quick surveys or project retrospectives, feedback creates a feeling that the employee is informing the destiny of their work. And who doesn’t love choosing their own adventure? If you believe that autonomy may be low on your team, look for ways to incorporate feedback into your daily work routines to help tailor autonomy to each employee’s work style.