Trust Me: You’ll Want to Read this Article About Trust at Work


There are questions in all facets of business that are difficult to answer, some that are easy to answer, and some that are really, really subjective. One of those subjective questions is: What does trust mean to your organization? It’s a question with answers that will run the gamut. If you ask ten people what trust means to them, you will get ten different answers.

Think about all the things we are asked to trust—or have been conditioned to trust– on a day-to-day basis. We trust that the brakes on our car will work. We trust that other drivers will stop at a red light. We trust the postal service to deliver our mail (maybe a bit slower these days.) Imagine how stressful our day would be if our default position was not to trust in this situation?

When it comes to the modern workplace, that’s exactly the problem we’re facing: employers and employees more often than not lack a healthy level of trust of each other. This is one of the key reasons organizations fail to achieve the employee experience they strive for. 

The Value of Trust

A recent study of nearly 4,000 employees and business leaders in 11 countries conducted by The Workforce Institute at UKG found that when it comes to trust at work, there are several things that employers and employees can do better.

Before we break those down, let’s talk about the cost of distrust. According to the researchers, more than a quarter of survey respondents globally (24%) say they’ve left a company because they did not feel trusted. One-in-five (22%) say they did not refer a candidate for a job opening because they didn’t trust their company. More than two-thirds (68%) also admitted that not feeling trusted hurt their daily effort.

Turnover, talent acquisition, and productivity are three of the biggest—and most costly—people challenges every organization can face. They’re hard enough in the best of circumstances, but when you layer on institutional challenges like a fundamental lack of trust, even the best HR leader will be hard pressed to build an engaged workforce.

A Fundamental Question: Should Trust at Work Be Given or Earned?

Think back to your first day on the job. Did you feel trusted at work from day one? It’s clear that many do not. In fact, 72% of C-suite executives surveyed felt that trust needed to be earned by the employee, and only 25% of leaders said they trusted employees from day one.

This means that the employee experience is starting off on unequal footing for many. Instead of trusting employees that are hired because they were supposedly the best fit, most employers expect new employees to earn trust, despite their prior skills and achievements.  

Sure, it takes time to truly get to know someone new, but if you don’t begin with a position of trust for all employees, how can the organization design workplace policies that empower an employee? Empowering employees is especially important when work and life overlap.

Training and Development: Do as I Say, or Do as You Want?

In keeping with the theme of employee empowerment, employers should also prioritize lifelong learning for workers eager to acquire new skills. The workforce today is hungry to succeed and prosper in their lives and careers, and they expect their employers to provide them ongoing opportunities to grow. While this drive to succeed is sought after by many segments of workers, Millennials and Gen Z stand out in terms of their expectations that their employer will provide them the means to learn and grow personally and professionally.

Providing these opportunities for advancement can also work to further a trusting culture, but in order to get there employers have more work to do, according to the research. The study showed that a mere 24% of employees felt that they could select their own training and development opportunities, rather than opportunities chosen for them, or mandated by companies. While it is unrealistic to expect employees to have complete control in deciding their own course of learning at work, whenever it’s feasible employers can show and build trust by allowing them to choose trainings tailored to their interests.

Trust building may not be the first thing that comes to mind when discussing training and development in the workplace, but don’t discount its impact. Training and development initiatives are mutually beneficial for both the employer and the employees. Employees obtain new knowledge, skills, and abilities and feel that the company is invested in their development and future, fostering a sense of belonging and enhancing the employee experience. Employers benefit from having a skilled and productive workforce, hence supporting the bottom line. Employers who fail to trust employees to control some portion of their growth risk losing top performers to companies that do.

Employees Need to Trust, Too

One element that’s clear in The Workforce Institute survey is that employees don’t trust their employer either. More than a third (38%) have no faith their employer will put people before profits. Similarly, nearly a quarter (24%) don’t trust they’ll be paid accurately, while 27% don’t trust they’ll be scheduled fairly. Nearly a third (32%) don’t trust their organization to apply equal standards for pay and promotions.

This is where the modern workplace is well-served by modern technology. Manual processes or outdated solutions make it challenging to instill fairness and equity across organizations, especially big ones.

Automation timekeeping, which is the start of the payroll process, is vital to ensuring an accurate paycheck. Empowering employees with self-scheduling allows each individual to build a schedule that works for them. And deep data visibility across compensation, performance, and career pathing helps reduce the opportunity for discrimination in these areas.

The Bottom Line

Our level of trust with each other as humans has shifted. Perhaps it can be argued that our inter-personal trust is more fragile than ever. As we move forward towards the future of work, now is a time to reflect on all that we have accomplished over the last years. Despite the hardships, workplaces rapidly responded to the disruptions and achieved success in employee safety, digital transformation, and modernization that seemed insurmountable prior to the vast challenges. (Unsurprisingly, those with high levels of trust were able to tap into the equity they had built with their employees to achieve success more quickly). Now, all organizations need to take a hard look at their go-forward plan to deliberately plan a path forward that will institutionalize trust as a foundation of their culture. When trust is the baseline, it becomes possible to innovate in ways that will enhance the employee experience—and customer experience—that were otherwise unimaginable. 



Julie Develin, is a Sr. Partner, HCM Advisory & Human Insights at UKG. A leader in HR landscape, she was honored as a top 100 HR Influencer in 2023. She’s addressed diverse audiences globally, delivering keynotes and sessions spanning HR, payroll, talent management. Develin is the co-host of The People Purpose Podcast. With over two decades of HR experience, she’s dedicated to harmonizing humanity and technology, fostering employee relations, and nurturing talent development. She champions improved HR experiences and organizational relationships. Develin holds the titles of SHRM-SCP and Global Talent Management Leader (GTML) and is an adjunct professor in HR and human services. Julie will be speaking at the HR Conference & Expo, April 30-May 1, 2024

For the latest HR and business articles, check out our main page. 

Reader Feedback

We want to hear from you!

Do you have a story idea you’d like to see covered by PeopleTalk?

Or maybe you’ve got a question we could ask our members in our People & Perspectives section?

Or maybe you just want to tell us how much you liked the article.

The door is always open.

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating 1 / 5. Vote count: 1

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.



Enter your email address to receive updates each Wednesday.

Privacy guaranteed. We'll never share your info.