How to earn trust with your employees

Pete Jansons


When workers trust their leaders, good things happen. They feel empowered to give valuable, honest feedback that can help a small business grow. Creativity and willingness to try new things flourish because employees know management has their back. Individual accountability rises as team members follow the lead from above to take responsibility for actions.

Yet less than half of full-time workers trust their boss, according to a 2016 EY study.

Furthermore, respondents with a low level of trust in their company note serious potential consequences arising from that lack, such as influencing them to look for another job (42 percent), working only the minimum number of hours required (30 percent), and being less engaged/productive (28 percent).

So how can you earn the trust of your small business employees? These strategies can make an important difference:

Keep your word. People need to know that they can consistently believe what you say, so avoid making false claims or promises you can’t fulfill. If you need to revise statements based on unforeseen circumstances or new information, explain the change in detail.

Do the “hard stuff.” No small business leader relishes delivering bad news or giving negative feedback. But regular, honest communication demonstrates that you are a straight-shooter who doesn’t keep secrets or blindside employees. Likewise, admit when you make a mistake rather than cover it up or blame others. A sincere apology and actions to rectify demonstrate character.

Share credit. Acknowledging the contributions of others shows your team that you aren’t out to steal the spotlight and that you genuinely value their efforts.

Be consistent. Favoritism leads to resentment, especially in a close-knit environment. Treat everyone equally and hold all employees to the same standards and rules. Also, avoid waffling when it comes to priorities, objectives, and procedures. When a message changes too often, people don’t know if they should believe it.

Listen to feedback. Soliciting input shows you respect the opinion of others, and following through builds faith that you’re committed to real progress. Employees need to feel secure that they can share information without being ignored or penalized.

Demonstrate your trust. Micromanaging often backfires because employees sense that you lack confidence in their abilities. Alternately, allowing someone the freedom to try out an idea or work from home when a child is sick sends the message that you view staff as professionals capable of monitoring their own behavior. Trust breeds trust, so don’t be afraid to make the first gesture.

Set workers up for success. Finally, remember that small business employees can feel overwhelmed by everything that needs to be done. By keeping workloads manageable, giving workers the proper tools, and checking in to see how things are going, your team learns to trust that you have their best interests at heart. You’ll go even further in generating trust by pitching in and getting your own hands dirty when things are tough. Saying that you’re all in this together is one thing, but living it is quite another.


Want more advice and resources for building your small business? Learn about the essential elements of a standout recruitment strategy


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