Restoring trust in the workplace

“Trust is like the air we breathe. When it’s present, nobody really notices. But when it’s absent, everybody notices.” -Warren Buffet

A previous Michigan State University Extension article, Understanding Trust in the Workplace highlighted the work of Dennis S. Reina and Michelle L. Reina, founders of the Reina Trust Building Institute. They developed the Transactional Trust Model®, which illustrates what trust means and the behaviors that shape it.

This article focuses on steps to restore trust in an organization where relationships have been eroded or damaged. Dr. Chris Hitch (UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School), in his white paper How to Build Trust in an Organization, provides several excellent examples that confirm the benefits of creating a strong trust-base in the workplace. Furthermore, Hitch included illustrated data that concludes when high-trust organizations were compared to low-trust organizations (2009 Interaction Associates Study) high-trust organizations demonstrated superior earnings, organizational behavior consistent with their values and ethics, employee retention and excelled at attracting, deploying and developing talent.

What then can an organization do to restore trust in the workplace and reap the benefits associated with high-trust organizations? Hitch offered five steps developed by Corsum Consulting, using the acronym T-R-U-S-T. Below is this mnemonic, as well as how these steps link to Reina and Reina’s Transactional Trust Model®, from the previous article, Understanding the Importance of Trust in the Workplace:

T = Teach. Teach everyone in the organization how things work; make it as transparent as possible. Teach builds upon Communication Trust.

R = Reward. Make sure reward systems align with corporate values and goals. Reward aligns with Competence and Contractual Trust.

U = Unconditional support. Encourage innovation. Create an environment where mistakes are opportunities to learn, not to punish. Give employees permission to “think outside the box.” Unconditional support involves Competence Trust.

S = Share. Communicate clearly and frequently. Share involves both Communication and Competence Trust.

T = Trustworthy. Make commitments and keep them. Trustworthy parallels Communication and Contractual Trust.

In Building Sustainable Trust, Reina and Reina take trust-rebuilding further when delineating the Seven Steps for Healing®. According to Reina and Reina, ‘”a mistake leaders make during change is to assume that once broken, it [trust] will be re-established on its own over time.”

Unfortunately, it is often the outcome from the lack-of-trust that organizations focus on resolving (e.g. decreased productivity, low morale and high turnover) instead of what may be the core of the problem – lack of trust. Understanding and learning how to create a base-of-trust that promotes an environment of relationship building may be the key to increasing and maintaining productivity in the workplace.

Reina and Reina suggest the following Seven Steps for Healing®; steps aimed at moving an organization toward rebuilding and renewing relationships.

  1. Observe and acknowledge what has happened
  2. Allow feelings to surface
  3. Get support
  4. Reframe the experience
  5. Take responsibility
  6. Forgive yourself and others
  7. Let go and move on.

Workplace trust is vital to economic health and overall productivity of an organization. Employees, who work in companies where trust is a core value, tend to focus on the task at hand and are not distracted by behaviors that destroy relationships. To explore further how trust in the workplace can be restored, the publications cited in this article are highly recommended.