How to Build Employee Trust and Increase Business Performance

How to Build Employee Trust and Increase Business Performance


The 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer is a wake-up call for business leaders who have failed to consider the importance of employee trust. For the first time ever, we added specific questions to our global survey to collect data on employees’ trust in companies. And the results were surprising. One in three people don’t trust the company for which they work. Since employee engagement is critical to building trust among stakeholders, organizations are at risk of harming their reputations and hindering business performance if they don’t take action to close the trust gap.

Find out more about the results and the actions you can take to build employee trust.

Inversion of Organizational Influence
In addition, we learned that trust decreases as you go lower in an organization, with:

  • 64% of executives trusting their companies
  • 51% of managers trusting their companies
  • And 48% of rank and file employees trusting their companies

Increasing Influence of Experts, Peers, and Employees
When it comes to forming opinions about companies, consumers view experts, peers, and employees as the most trusted sources, even more so than the CEO. In fact, employees are the most trusted source on how businesses perform, operate, manage crises, and treat their people.

So if you’re not already tapping your employees to be company spokespeople, you should be. Enabling employees to share your stories externally with consumers can heighten your organization’s brand awareness and improve its perception in the market. However, before you turn your employees into advocates, you need to ensure they trust your organization. And currently only 65% of people globally trust the company for which they work.

So what does it mean to be a leader when there’s a division of trust, where influence no longer flows from the top down but the bottom up? It means the old ways of leadership won’t work. Senior leaders need to build relationships with employees – the same way they do with customers, partners, and investors. Similar rules apply: Be honest. Do what you say you’ll do. Admit when you’re wrong. Provide context. And listen. It’s far easier to trust a human being with a face, name, and values than a title on a business card.


Infographic: The Power of the Employee Voice


CEO’s Behavior Affects Employee Trust
Building trust is also not just what you say – it’s about what you do. Employees want their organizations and the people who lead them to be motivated by more than just profit and business performance. In fact, employees said they are more likely to perform better, recommend the company’s products and services, and stay with the organization if the CEO is actively and visibly engaged in societal issues.

In a world where purpose matters and peer influence is paramount, your employees are the gateway to connecting authentically and earning the trust of the broader population.

Ways to Activate Employee Trust
With that said, here are seven key ways to activate employee trust to increase business performance.


      Start by thinking about your employees and your customers in the same way. Ensure that the quality of communications to your people is the same as your communications to customers, investors, and other external stakeholders.

2. Support your leaders by helping them engage employees to build trust. In particular, and especially for your CEO, help your leaders describe to employees the ways in which the company is a positive force for good in society.

3. Develop an easy to remember and repeat story that has a positive force for good at its heart. Don’t settle for only describing your business strategy to employees. Show them how this strategy delivers something truly worthwhile to the world, beyond corporate profit.

4. Bring this story to life with real proof points that are evidence of your good work. Make sure these proof points recognize your employee heroes – those whose actions and behaviors demonstrate the value you bring to the world.

5. Enable employees to share your story and proof points with each other and the wider world. Give them shareable content and a simple platform that lets them publish content to their own social networks.

6. Track employee engagement on an ongoing basis. Listen continuously to your employees. You wouldn’t gauge your customer engagement efforts on a wing and a prayer, so adopt the same rigor and discipline when it comes to your employees.

7. And, finally, make sure your internal communications team has the capability, resources and structure to make all this happen. Recognize that this may be quite a different type of team than what you needed only a few years ago.

Post Author

Christopher Hannegan

Christopher lead the Change and Employee Engagement Practice at Edelman in the U.S.; providing senior-level counsel to clients in the areas of employee engagement, change management and internal communications.