How to Create a Culture of Trust

Business teamworkWith mid-term elections behind us, it’s clear there’s a movement afoot that has the potential to make public employment even more unattractive. Layoffs, benefit cuts, and threatened pension structures have led public employees to be wary of their employers. Last month’s local ballot measures continue to chip away at the public sector employer/employee relationship. The City of Phoenix is just one locale to recently attempt pension reform.

At the same time, a recent survey from the American Psychological Association found that one in three workers say their employer is not always honest and truthful with them. About a quarter of workers don’t trust their employers at all. This is concerning because the Gallup Organization has found that organizations with engaged employees outperform others by as much as 202 percent. Engaged employees are also less likely to leave.

If the trends are not in our favor in the public sector, how can we build a culture of trust and openness? What steps can leaders take to stem the tide of cynicism and create workplaces where employees feel valued and motivated to do their best? Here are three ideas to consider.

Involve employees. While many of the forces impacting the public workplace may be out of an individual manager or employee’s control, many of the day-to-day decisions about how work is done are subject to individual choice. Involve employees in decisions that impact their work environment including the physical set up of the workplace.

According to Paula M. Singer and Steve Joiner in a recent HR News Magazine article, “trust runs high among engaged workers, and organizations that operate transparently have workers who trust one another.” Transparency…that’s the key!

Asking a simple question like, “How can we do things better?” provides a sense of control to the employee who may otherwise feel helpless in a rapidly changing environment. Share as much information as possible and then focus the conversation as close to the work as possible. Employees will soon begin to feel as if they have a little more control.

Recognize contributions. While money is certainly important in the world of work, a two percent cost of living increase is unlikely to motivate employees to perform at higher levels. Motivation to perform comes from feeling valued, appreciated, and challenged. Public agencies that have deliberately created meaningful recognition systems reap the benefits of higher levels of employee engagement.  It doesn’t have to be fancy. Meaningful recognition can take place in the work unit and can be managed by the immediate supervisor. Just saying thank you may be the first step toward building a trusting environment.

Initiate regular conversations. Inviting employees to talk about their relationship with the employer and providing frequent feedback and coaching builds trust. Greater feelings of trust result when there is everyday communication about the workplace and the employee’s role in the big picture. Honest conversations about performance allow employees to see an accurate picture of how they contribute to the larger organization. Moving from a once-per-year performance evaluation to a system of regular and frequent feedback conversations is one way to create a culture of regular communication and trust.

Building a culture of trust is never easy. Today in the public sector, it can be even more difficult. Still, how leaders engage employees will determine the organization’s future in terms of employee retention and engagement.

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