What is a high trust culture and what are its benefits?

If employees were describing what it’s like to work for your company, do you think the word trust would come up? If so, your company could be in the fortunate position of having what’s been termed as a ‘high trust’ culture. Put most simply, it’s one where the prevailing organizational culture is built on and consistently demonstrates trusting, and trust-enhancing, behaviours – and there’s plenty of evidence showing that these types of organizations are the ones with the advantages when it comes to both employee and financial wellbeing.

What are the benefits associated with high trust cultures?

Trust has been shown to play a hugely important role in employee engagement, effectively laying the foundations for it to happen. The UK voluntary engagement movement Engage for Success refers to engaged organizations as having “strong and authentic values, with clear evidence of trust and fairness based on mutual respect, where two-way promises and commitments – between employers and employees – are understood and fulfilled”. 

Stanford psychologist Emma Seppala points to a large body of research showing a high trust culture nurtures collaboration and creativity, encouraging employees to innovate. Employee retention’s been shown to be better in high trust companies: the 2016 Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For® report showed an average voluntary turnover rate of just 10% of employees who worked in a high trust work environment.

Great Place to Work®’s research into the links between business success and high trust cultures reveals several significant outcomes. They include turnover rates that are around 50% less than industry competitors and stock market returns around two to three times higher than average. High trust cultures are connected to greater levels of customer satisfaction too. As this analysis from Michael D’Antonio and John Gerzema explains, they’re also linked to increased spending habits (known as “the spend shift”) with consumers opting to spend their money with companies known for genuinely promoting values such as transparency, fairness, kindness and generosity.

The expectation of working in high trust cultures is growing; increasing numbers of millennials are entering the workplace and they want to work for companies that are collaborative and transparent. As this 2018 millennial survey report from Deloitte highlights, there’s a growing desire for increasingly meaningful relationships with individuals in the workplace and organizations as a whole. There’s frustration and disappointment when this can’t be achieved. Any organization that’s falling short would be wise to think about any steps it can take to improve it because indications are this is going to be a workplace issue that’s going to take on ever-increasing levels of significance.

Have you considered whether your organization has a high trust culture? Perhaps it’s well on the way to developing one but there’s still more to do. Here are four signs that might help you decide:

Your employees are treated with respect

Are employees treated like grown-ups, like the professionals that they are? That might sound like a strange thing to ask but sometimes the way companies deal with employees can still seem more indicative of a parent/child relationship.

For example, do employees need to seek permissions or authorizations regularly? Or are they empowered to make decisions on their own when it’s practical to do so? Being given flexibility and autonomy over how they work is an indication that they’re trusted to deliver what’s needed. What about communication? Its important employees are regularly communicated with, and their views taken into account, so they don’t feel they’re being left out. Opinions need to be sought and feedback listened to. These are the types of actions that offer important signals to employees that their contributions are valued and opinions respected.

The workplace is perceived as fundamentally fair

A sense of fairness develops when employees feel they’re operating on a level playing field in all aspects of the business such as equal pay, recognition and opportunities for advancement. Indicators of how fundamentally fair a workplace is can be seen all over an organization. The way leaders interact with subordinates for instance: a ‘do as we say and not as we do’ culture, where leadership is not leading by example, is jarring and can instantly undermine trust levels.

The way policies and procedures are set up and applied is another sign. Do they provide the foundations for a fair workplace, and are they applied in the right way to make sure that’s the day to day reality? Is there consistency in the way people are treated? If concerns arise, are they taken seriously? It is vital employees know they can raise any issues they have and that they will be properly addressed.

Employees are proud of working for your company

Have you seen any indications that your employees feel proud of where they work? There are so many places to look and listen for the signs: social media posts, recognition feedback, engagement surveys, day to day conversations…

A sense of being proud to be part of an organization comes from valuing what the organization stands for, and it comes from feeling valued. That stems from knowing efforts are recognised and appreciated. It occurs when employees feel the company takes a genuine interest in the ‘whole person’ and wants to help them accomplish their goals. Employees that feel proud to be part of an organization aren’t made to feel vulnerable by it. An employee cannot prize their organization if they don’t feel their company prizes them.

There’s a strong sense of camaraderie

Is there a sense of team and collaboration in your organization? Are individual supportive relationships formed, but never to the detriment of others?

Read more: What is the employee experience?

In high trust companies, employees are encouraged to work together to find solutions. People are happy to share knowledge, rather than hold it back to try to gain power or a sense of one-upmanship over a colleague. There’s a real team mindset and a strong vibe that people always look out for each other: both in times of personal need and also when working together to make sure everyone gets the best outcomes for the company.