I recently went to the National Theatre’s brilliant performance of Mark Haddon’s, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. The storyline revolves around a seed of trust that is planted, and then torn away, leading to devastation and destruction.

It made me wonder about our expectations of trust inside the workplace.

According to research by Dirks and Ferrin (2002), having trust in the workplace has been proven to yield economic advantage by enhancing effectiveness, efficiency and performance. However, trust is not a physical object which can be easily given and received. It is a belief in people’s integrity and goodwill that is hard to build and easy to destroy.

Adrian Furnham, Professor of Psychology at University College London, suggests we are currently in a “crisis of faith”. With whistleblowers, speeding train drivers, the financial crisis and corrupt politicians, why should we put our trust in anybody?

So what happens when this crisis of faith infects our workplaces?

There are three key issues that trust-free organisations face from their employees.

  1. Engaging in counterproductive behaviour (Bies and Tripp, 1996)
  2. Loss of the workforce as valuable employees leave (Robinson, 1996)
  3. Reduced effectiveness of their work (Dirks and Ferin, 2001)

This cannot be good for success and productivity; the importance of trust and happiness in the workplace should not be underestimated.

So, how do we define, measure and encourage trust in the workplace?

In their recent white paper Searle, Hailey and Dietz state that individual’s perceptions are central to the concept of trust.  There are four distinct qualities which leaders and co-workers should exhibit in order to gain trust from others:

  1. Ability – “The extent to which this party is believed to have the skills or competence to do their job”
  2. Benevolence – “How much they are regarded as caring genuinely about his or her well being”
  3. Integrity – “Which focuses on other’s adherence to moral principles and high standards of behaviours”
  4. Predictability – “The perceived consistency of others behaviour over time.”

These qualities should be aspired to by all employees, but more importantly, should be both actively nurtured and demonstrated by leadership. In doing so, you will create a trusting work environment, and happier, more productive employees.