Jon Alarcon

Jon Alarcon

Demystifying and Repairing Broken Trust

It almost goes without saying that building trust has always been one of the most important things for companies to prioritize with customers. Without trust, your customers leave, it’s harder to get new ones, and your business wilts.

However, there is a rising front for business leaders to fight the trust battle on: trust with their own employees.

Trust in the workplace is at an all time low…

  • 45% of employees feel their needs are not met at work
  • 34% are actively disengaged
  • 29% are actively looking for a new job

There has always been some form of inherent distrust between employers and employees. After all, the nature of a for profit organization is to maximize profits… which sometimes means having to let go of employees or make cuts that negatively affect them.

So why is it at an all time low now? Well, because Trust needs to be actively maintained and intentionally built. If you are not actively and intentionally building trust, then you are letting it passively erode over time. Many employers are not aware that they are passively breaking trust.

There is an oscillating dynamic in the workplace that usually favors the employer, and it has heavily swung in their direction over the last year. This means that the default state for employees is to be slightly skeptical or untrusting in the workplace. Instead of a healthy tension, there is eroding trust when employers knowingly or unknowingly do or say or don’t do or don’t say the right things. Complex and confusing, right?

Let’s add some clarity and shine a light on what trust looks like in the workplace and why employers should not deprioritize building trust with employees.

Why is it important for employers to build and maintain trust?

Employers that want to attract, motivate, and retain employees must understand the trust dynamics of the workplace. The benefits speak for themselves:

Source: MITSloan Management Review

But also, think about the opposite of this… untrusting employees are significantly less motivated, have much higher absenteeism rates, and are much more likely to be job searching. That same for profit organization mentioned above has every reason to be actively building trust with their employees.

How do we build or break trust?

“Trust” seems like one of those nebulous terms that is hard to define, but you recognize it when you see and feel it. Luckily, there is actually a math formula to help put some shape to it and understand what influences trust:

Source: Trusted Advisors Associates

Some quick definitions:

Trustworthiness (T) – the ability to be relied on as honest or truthful

Credibility (C) – your words and experience – how believable you are

Reliability (R) – your actions – how dependable you are

Intimacy (I) – closeness and emotions – how safe people feel sharing with you

Self-orientation (S) – your motives and focus – serving yourself vs others

When companies want to increase Trustworthiness (T), usually they focus on increasing the numbers on top (numerator) of the equation. Makes sense, right? Be Credible, Reliable, and foster an environment of Intimacy (safety), and people will trust you.

But don’t forget how important Self-Orientation is in this equation… mathematically, a 1 point increase (or decrease) in Self-orientation has a much bigger impact on Trustworthiness than the other variables.

Fastest Way to Build Trust

So with limited time and resources, where do you focus time and effort to build Trust? As an employer, the fastest way to do this is to decrease your Self-Orientation.

Put another way, increase the focus on what matters to your employees beyond just their work performance. In a workplace context, a heavy emphasis is always put on company goals and objectives. This is really important, but over time if employees see that is the only focus, it becomes clear that they don’t matter as a person. They’re just a number. Trust goes down, fear goes up.

So take the time to understand who they are and what they value as a person. Make it a regular part of your 1:1 meetings with employees. You might find some easy ways to help them make tangible progress toward their life goals.


Employees want to confidently feel and know that leaders are “on their side”. They want to trust not only that they’ll be treated with respect and proper support, but also that their work is helping them get to where they want to go in life.

Instead of creating an either/or environment, create a win-win by decreasing your company’s self-orientation and creating paths for people to achieve their personal goals.

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