Building High Trust Teams to Drive Employee Mental Health and Performance

Trust is vital to building and sustaining an effective team in any work environment. Trust in the workplace fosters a corporate culture where people feel safe with their colleagues. It also makes coworkers more likely to share, take appropriate risks, collaborate, and even divulge vulnerabilities to attain the organization's best possible outcomes.

Paul Zak, in a 2017 Harvard Business Review Article, The Neuroscience of Trust, researched people at low-trust and high-trust companies. Participants at high-trust organizations reported:

  • 76% more engagement
  • 74% lower stress levels
  • 50% higher productivity
  • 29% higher satisfaction in their lives
  • 40% less burnout

Zak found people working at high-trust companies had energy levels coming in 106% higher and had 13% fewer sick days than those at low-trust businesses. Statistics like these demonstrate developing a trust bond at work keeps employees connected and motivated, ultimately contributing to a positive corporate culture promoting employee mental health and behavioral wellness.

Changes in the Workplace Have Made Team Trust More Challenging

Unfortunately, establishing a cohesive team built on trust is more challenging than ever before. The global pandemic dismantled the entire concept of "business as usual,” forcing organizations to make rapid changes to their business model to keep workers safe and the operations profitable. Suddenly, workers found themselves navigating through remote and hybrid working environments, many for the first time.

The excellent news is colleagues do not have to work side by side to feel like a part of a team. Genuine trust and teamwork require healthy communication, collaborative engagements, and shared goals.

However, in a post-COVID landscape marked by social distancing, a turbulent economy, and elevating professional stressors, developing and sustaining trust can prove more challenging for business owners and HR specialists who want to keep their teams feeling and performing their best.

Recognizing Some of the Obstacles Hindering Team Trust

Recognizing some of the biggest obstacles derailing team trust helps HR professionals and executives identify and resolve these issues within their organization. For many businesses, poor communication serves as a fierce opponent to trust-building. To put it merely ­⁠— messaging matters. Ineffective or unhealthy communication within an organization can create frustration, confusion, and friction throughout the team.

Negative communication that deteriorates trust within the team includes:

  • Blaming
  • Judging
  • Coercing
  • Threatening
  • Dehumanizing

Unhealthy dialogues can be incredibly detrimental to teams if coming from upper-level leadership, ultimately setting the tone for poor communication throughout the organization.

Additionally, not feeling appreciated or valued can significantly influence trust levels among workers in a company. A lack of expressed gratitude can negatively impact trust, leading to an adverse effect on the business's bottom line. Recently, researchers found that 66% of employees acknowledged they would leave their job if they didn't feel appreciated — a number that jumps to 76% among millennial workers. Frequent and direct feedback is a crucial component to helping the larger team build trust.

How to Increase Trust Throughout Your Organization

There are many factors daily at play unraveling trust efforts among coworkers. Fortunately, leadership can proactively prioritize trust across every level of their business by focusing on several critical components, such as striving to:

Develop Healthy Communication Styles

Healthy, honest communication needs to be modeled from the top down within any business. Company leaders and HR professionals should promote open and transparent dialogue between individuals and teams. All employees should feel safe expressing their opinions professionally and appropriately.

Additionally, developing a corporate culture supporting attentive listening, embracing different ideas, and considering other viewpoints can prove pivotal in growing trust within teams. To prioritize positive communications, team members should have access to tools and resources fostering positive dialogues, outlining ways to defuse stressful conversations, and detailing a plan to help resolve unhealthy discussions as quickly as possible.

Attend to Nonverbal Communication

Non-verbal cues can speak volumes. While positive, engaging body language like eye contact and nodding can drive trust levels, crossed arms and hunched shoulders can instantly create an atmosphere where team members feel distrustful of one another.

Offering training and other resources on using body language to create a welcoming atmosphere for team members can help them feel more comfortable throughout the conversation and more likely to feel safe sharing ideas and feedback.

Make Gratitude a Core Component of Culture

Often employees and coworkers only hear when they've made a mistake or have fallen short. However, authentic praise, gratitude, and acknowledgment can help motivate coworkers and even encourage them to take appropriate risks with colleagues for the organization's greater good.

Making a practice of writing thank you notes to each other, volunteering together within the community, and creating "praise opportunities" for the team can help bolster morale and even improve interconnectedness for participants. A consistent practice of gratitude can increase sleep quality, elevate happiness, and boost generosity.

Foster Objective Alignment

Employees working towards conflicting outcomes can create varying levels of uncertainty within a company culture. All team members should have a clear understanding of corporate objectives and feel assured their efforts align with everyone else working on the initiative.

A shared purpose is essential to employees feeling motivated and driving them to excel for the company.

Avoid Micromanaging

Constantly scrutinizing employees' work can damage team relationships, both with leadership and with peers. This scrutiny makes contributors feel like no one trusts them to work independently or navigate through issues on their own; giving team members autonomy to create, innovate, and problem solve can help grow their confidence and promote them.

Eliminate Blame

Toxic work environments play the "blame game," focusing on mistakes and failures. Blame culture makes employees feel unsafe and far less likely to share and collaborate with colleagues. This blame can negatively impact a company's productivity, employee turnover, and revenues.

Creating a workplace supporting accountability over blame and celebrating the team’s contributions can eliminate stress and anxiety over making mistakes or offering an unpopular idea. Lowering these stressors makes team members feel more confident taking risks and innovating to find opportunities in failure.

Create Trust With New Hires

Developing a healthy, dynamic corporate culture where employees trust each other begins on a team member’s first day of employment. Successfully bringing new members into your team sustains the already existing, positive work environment where the team knows they can rely on each other for support and results.

Building trust from day one can also improve turnover levels within a business. Researchers have found companies with engaging, effective onboarding practices decreased turnover by as much as 157%.

Is Your Company Struggling to Build Team Trust?

Pathways develops customized workplace wellness programs building dynamic corporate cultures prioritizing trust, balance, employee mental health, and interconnected wellbeing. With plans designed by our team of counselors, social workers, and physicians, Pathways can help your organization access the tools and resources needed to help elevate employee wellness across all levels of your business. Contact us today to learn more.

Read Our Report - The Mind at Work: A Report on Employee Mental Health

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