Trust is the foundation that any successful partnership should be built-upon － business included. And yet, this is frequently lacking between workers and their bosses, resulting not only in reduced levels of respect but also in losses of happiness, productivity, and in the long run, employee retention.
Easy enough to say, this is a huge issue that needs to be addressed. How are you supposed to go about fixing it, though? Here are three major ways to build up this frontline employee trust and ensure that your critical working relationships are, well, actually working for all involved.
1. Always Be Honest & Transparent
You know the old saying that “honesty is always the best policy?” It’s a phrase that you can probably remember being told all the way back in your childhood days. But truth be told, most of us could honestly bear to go through a refresher course on how to do so, particularly when it comes to work.
After all, the workplace doesn’t always encourage such forthrightness and integrity, nor does it even reward it. Those in managerial positions are rather taught to keep any proverbial cards close to their chest and maintain a strict division between what the higher-ups know and what the employee is told, merely referring employees to the company mission statement anytime they ask for more than what’s next on the docket.
The problem is, this is a terrible way to lead. As stated within an HBR article on reaching employees, “the urge to communicate your values is proof positive that you are not acting on them.”
Talk is cheap. What you actually do matters more than any company-approved phrases ever will, and brushing off employees － refusing to interact with them on any meaningful level or to regard them as an equal － easily show how performative they are, to begin with. Luckily, you can just outright avoid this.
How? Speak to frontline workers like the people they are. Be transparent, open, and honest. Respond to their questions, genuinely take their feedback, and have real conversations instead of redirected fluff. Mission statements are for walls and conferences, not communication. Prove to employees that they’re more than a few numbers on a spreadsheet, and things will immediately take a turn for the better.
2. Engage in One-on-One Communication
Stopping all the tired values-based spiels is integral to building frontline workers’ trust and respect, but it can be a surprisingly big ask. According to the same Harvard Business Review piece mentioned previously, some 68% of large companies rate their missions as a primary communication priority, and this number may be higher yet today in a working culture that routinely utilizes corporate virtue-signaling without doing a whole lot to practically affirm said virtue.
Resistance is then pretty much inevitable. Although it’ll take a great deal of patience and perseverance, it’s essential that you work hard to push back against such reactions. Frontline employees don’t get company strategy, nor do they necessarily care. What matters to them is that 1) they’re treated well and 2) that they understand where they stand.
These workers are here to do a job, and they want to do it well. This can’t happen by keeping them in the dark on job performance, so it’s up to you to share this information in a way not bound to far-off figures or meaningless metrics.
Our suggestion? Swing on by and talk to them one-on-one. Explain what the company hopes to achieve through their role’s contribution and discuss what they can do on a daily basis to meet these expectations. A little wary or uncertain about how to get into it? Consider downloading our 15-Minute Stand Up Framework for Lean Managers.
In it, we actually provide a step-by-step process to use, helping you craft conversations that target productivity, anchor metrics in real-world action, and encourage collaboration to inform employees about what they’re doing right and how they can improve further. It’s short, sweet, and free but still a powerful tool for any boss hoping to improve their employee communication skills.
3. Empower Manager-Employee Relationships
So we’ve talked a lot here about what employees need to thrive, improve, and trust in your company. Honesty, transparency, follow-through, communication – these are the things you must aspire to if you want stable manager-employee relationships and a business that can succeed in the long-term.
Individually, these characteristics feel somewhat hazy and vague. But together, they can ultimately be summed up into one unshakable, actionable directive: empower your people.
Throughout nearly every level of the corporate world, folks feel that they have next-to-no say and register that they’re frequently forgotten or unheard. And, as to be expected, this has consequences. It destroys work satisfaction, increases cynicism in the company, and inevitably drives off many of your best and brightest. With this good for neither them nor you, it’s time to make a change and give them back some of the power.
The initial step to doing so is painfully straightforward and basic. You need to let yourself hear what they have to say. Lend an ear and strive to truly listen. Start up organizations or groups within the company, and make sure everyone has an equal voice. Create some sort of structure for taking employee feedback and encourage employees to contribute theirs. When someone brings attention to a problem, don’t let it lie there. Work together to find a solution that can serve all rather than a select few.
And perhaps more than anything else, prioritize one-on-one time with workers on the floor! Creating daily opportunities for direct communication between managers and employees is an absolute must because it is in these conversations where much of the above will happen. Even short moments for manager-employee talk can make all the difference, starting a thoughtful dialogue that fosters better work and better relationships alike.
Frontline workers often get the short end of the stick and are frequently left cynical as a result. But it’s imperative that you gain their trust and keep building upon it in the days ahead. After all, a business can’t prosper without good employees, and good employees won’t stick around without that basis of trust.
Luckily, contrary to popular belief, generating a renewed sense of this isn’t rocket science. It simply requires that you empower your employees and give manager-worker relationships a chance to flourish. Be transparent, communicative, practical, and honest, and you’ll soon be reaping the rewards.