Many large organisations such as Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Salesforce have announced major restructures and redundancies in recent weeks, sending shockwaves of unease across the technology industry. 

During times of uncertainty, leaders have a vital role to play by maintaining, or in some cases restoring, trust within teams.  However, less than half of leaders trust their own manager to do what’s right. And less than a third say they trust senior leaders in their organisation, according to DDI’s Global Leadership Forecast 2023 (GLF).

While companies that build trust thrive, it’s a fragile asset. When emotions and workloads run high, stressed leaders struggle to make building trust a priority over getting things done as quickly as possible. 

That’s why it’s critical that leaders who are working to rebuild after layoffs put a focused effort into building trust.

The importance of building trust at work

Weaving trust into workplace culture isn’t only important for employee retention and building talent, but for the overall success of the business. While trust is a vital aspect in any workplace, there are some aspects in particular that rely on trust to be successful.

One key area that relies on trust is retaining talent. People are more likely to stay in a role if they feel trusted and have trust in those around them. Among mid- and senior-level women, 70% of those who didn’t trust their senior leaders said they intended to leave, compared to only 26% who trusted their senior leaders.

Remote work is another key area that trust is vital, the majority of leaders now work in a hybrid or remote setting so building a culture requires a different approach to in-person working. But of those leaders who work remotely, they are 22% more likely to trust senior leaders compared to those who work in person. 

This statistic opens an interesting question of ‘the chicken or the egg’: does the option to work remotely result in increased trust, or are companies with a leadership culture based on trust more likely to allow remote work? Either way, it’s clear that companies grappling with the question of in-person versus remote work may be struggling with mistrust. 

Trust also needs to be felt during times of uncertainty. Particularly in today’s fast-paced tech world, emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), can leave people feeling uneasy at work. There are lots of unknowns around why AI is being implemented, and how it will impact roles moving forwards. Not to mention the ethical debates around whether data being inputted into large language models such as Chat GPT is safe. That’s why it’s crucial for leaders to be open about how we use AI with both employees and customers, and empowering teams to feel confident when adopting new technology.

The ways leaders behave is key to building trust

The good news is that there are a number of learnable behaviours known to build trust that, when implemented into a leader’s skillset, are the foundation for every effective interaction.

  1. Listen and respond with empathy

Think of a situation where the person you were talking to wasn’t listening. How did you feel? Probably not great. As a leader, the key to listening and responding with empathy is showing the other person you were listening, by repeating what they have said and acknowledging how they must be feeling.

When a leader listens, responds with empathy and then follows up with statements like, “I understand your concern about what this means for our team, and I share your concern. Let me tell you what went into making the decision,” they are sharing what’s on their mind as well as providing the rationale for why the decision was made. 

  1. Genuinely acknowledge your failures and challenges

One of the mistakes leaders make is assuming their teams will trust them more if they appear to be perfect, without making any mistakes. They fear that vulnerability or imperfection will be perceived as weakness and lacking trust. However, research has shown that when leaders regularly display vulnerability, their employees are 5.3X more likely to trust them. 

The key to acknowledging your failures as a leader, is to be mindful of your behaviour when you fail. Offering a simple, genuine apology and accepting you made a mistake goes a long way in building trust with your team. It shows that sometimes it is okay to make mistakes and sets an example for others to own their mistakes and learn from them.

Vulnerability is more than admitting when you are wrong. It’s also being able to admit when you don’t know the answer. When facing a challenge or a problem, leaders can play a vital role in driving innovation by actively involving their team members. This spirit or collaboration not only builds trust but empowers individuals to share their own ideas and opinions and become more invested in the company goals and values by fostering a sense of ownership and commitment. When partnered with competency vulnerability enables people to showcase how they are learning, and how things are improving.

  1. Prioritise employee wellbeing

When times are as uncertain as they are now, don’t under-estimate the effect of ‘checking in’.  It doesn’t take long to ask a few questions to understand the individuals in your team, ask about their families. Taking a minute to ask how they are can reduce employee turnover. It shows care and consequently increases team trust.

Ask employees about their mental and physical wellbeing, as well as how things are outside of work – if you don’t, you are neglecting life aspects that can have a huge impact on their performance, and the ability for the business to run at its best.

  1. Recognise and celebrate success

It’s been well documented that individuals who receive regular recognition and praise increase their individual productivity, are more likely to stay with their organisation, receive higher loyalty and satisfaction scores from customers, and have better safety records and fewer accidents on the job. To build workplace trust, any recognition needs to be specific and sincere. 

Building trust is an underrated, yet vital skill for leaders in the technology industry. Especially during times of uncertainty and additional external pressures, trust enables teams to navigate challenges, setbacks, and changes more effectively. When leaders are trusted by their colleagues, they can inspire confidence, provide direction, and mobilise teams to overcome obstacles and seize opportunities. Cultivating trust among colleagues, creates a supportive and empowering environment where teams thrive and innovation flourishes.