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What Keeps Us from Trusting Others in the Workplace?

Once upon a time, people found jobs with a company and stayed in that organization for their entire career. Trusting others in the organization was easy because there were norms and practices that everyone understood. The employer/employee relationship was founded in mutual trust and loyalty.

But things changed. In waves of consolidations, globalization, outsourcing, and economic declines, employers changed the norms. Employees responded in kind, no longer tethering themselves for life to a single organization or occupation. 

It’s commonplace now for employees to change jobs frequently and to be constantly on the lookout for better opportunities. Employers compete for talent by offering higher wages, better benefits, and creative perks.

What’s missing, for everyone involved, is the pride of affiliation and the sense of security that came with there were stronger bonds between employees and employers. In its place, people are more guarded and less willing to be “all in” with their trust and commitment.   

Loyalty is in short supply. 

Trusting Others at Work Requires Loyalty and Starts at the Top

A Davis Associates trust survey found that 57% of employees have little or no trust in management. The reasons for such low trust rates include:

  • A lack of quality and frequency in communication 
  • A lack of honesty and transparency in communication
  • A lack of relationships where people genuinely know and understand each other
  • A lack of connection between work done and its higher meaning and purpose
  • A lack of management credibility and competence
  • A lack of fairness (or perception of it)
  • A lack of growth and development opportunities 

NOTE: Many of these gaps are directly related to the 12 Dimensions of Trust that we’re examining in this CONNECT2Lead Blog series. (We’ve already addressed honesty & integrity, competence, and consistency in past posts.) You can also assess yourself on the 12 Dimensions of Trust by downloading this free tool from People First Productivity Solutions.  

When you add up the bulleted items that explain low trust in management, another dimension of trust is revealed. People aren’t feeling that managers and organizations are loyal to them. No wonder it’s so easy to disassociate from an employer and move on to another opportunity! 

Most employers hyper-focus on performance instead of considering the people behind the performance. Unrealistic expectations, insufficient training and coaching, and unwillingness to remove obstacles are just a few of the ways that employers ignore employee needs while demanding results from them. 

Graphic Showing Flag of USAEmployers with solid reputations for engaging and retaining employees do things differently. They invest in people’s growth. They take time to offer feedback and to communicate about the state of the organization. They inspire employees by helping them see their impact and the purpose of their work. 

By educating, informing and inspiring employees, these employers earn trust and loyalty from employees. They demonstrate their loyalty to employees first in the form of support that genuinely helps people meet performance expectations.  

A 2022 Gallup study found that there’s been a big decline in the number of employees who believe their managers and employers care about their wellbeing. This, too, is indicative of a loyalty gap. When we’re loyal to someone, we care about their wellbeing. 

Like Trust, Loyalty Is Reciprocal

When you know someone’s got your back, you’re more likely to have theirs. 

Loyalty is usually returned in equal measures. It’s mutual. We want to reward loyalty with loyalty. 

When employers invest in our development and provide constructive feedback that helps us grow and thrive, we’re more inclined to stay with that employer and more likely to work hard for the desired results. 

In marketing circles, the term “reciprocal loyalty” is used to describe a premium relationship that benefits both the customer and the brand. In an age of empowered consumers, rewards programs and responsiveness to customers is vital to business success. 

The same applies in employer/employee relationships. This is the age of an empowered workforce, and employers are scrambling to differentiate themselves and retain employees. Reciprocal loyalty would help. It starts when companies are deeply, truly committed to their employees in meaningful ways. 

Higher pay does not foster loyalty. Instead, it conditions employees to think that pay for performance is all there is in an employer/employee relationship.

Free meals and campus-like settings do not inspire loyalty, at least not in isolation. When amenities like this are tangible proof of deeper sentiments about employee wellbeing, they do have a positive impact on loyalty. 

What really makes the difference, though, is having managers who care about their direct reports. These are not managers who coddle employees and protect them from challenging assignments or constructive feedback. Rather, these are managers who care enough to tell employees what they need to know in order to grow and succeed in the long-term. These are managers who get to know people on a personal level and take a genuine interest in what motivates and inspires each individual. 

Working for a manager who cares in these ways causes people to feel a deep sense of loyalty. They support these leaders, even when there are difficult tasks or challenges to face. They reciprocate loyalty by being “all in” when that’s what is needed.  

Actions that Demonstrate Loyalty 

We invest in the people and relationships that matter to us. Loyalty shines through in the small things we say and do to ennoble others and demonstrate that they matter.     

Loyalty is defined as “faithful adherence; faithfulness to commitments or obligations.” When we’re loyal, we keep our promises and stick to our plans. Our allegiance is clear and constant when we are loyal to a person or a cause. We are devoted. 

There is an implied selflessness wrapped up in the definition of loyalty. People who are loyal aren’t easily distracted by self-interests. They won’t throw you under the bus to save themselves.

The definition also implies sustained focus. Loyalty is a long-term play. When people are loyal, they don’t ping pong between loyalties. They aren’t acting on whims or constantly chasing shiny, new objects. 

The selflessness and long-term focus can cause misunderstandings, though, about loyalty in the workplace. A loyal employee may stay with an organization longer and with stronger commitment. But, a long-tenured employee may or may not be loyal to an organization. The loyalty cannot be measured by length of time alone. 

Better than time served, you can ascertain loyalty by considering:

  • Are promises being kept? When someone cares about you enough to be loyal, they affirm their commitment to the relationship by delivering what’s been promised.
  • Is support being shown? When someone is devoted to a relationship, person, or organization, they understand what’s important and do what they can to help make it happen.
  • Do you feel backed up? When someone “has your back” you know you can count on them in good times and bad. You won’t feel abandoned when the going gets tough. 
  • Are risks taken to help you? When someone is “there” for you, they aren’t merely head-bobbing or giving you lip service. Instead, they tell you the unpleasant truths to help you avoid bigger problems later. 
  • Are your needs being equally considered? When someone can look beyond their own needs and take yours into account, that is an act of loyalty. 

Choosing behaviors that demonstrate these little loyalties every day will build trust. Others will reciprocate in similar, small ways that show their loyalty. In time, mutual trust will grow with loyalty.

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