Trust Is the Catalyst for Enhanced Workplace Productivity

Kory Kogon

A plethora of strategies and methodologies claim to boost workplace productivity, yet just one factor emerges consistently as the linchpin of success: trust. 

Productivity is tough to measure in part because it is what comes before results. Delivering solid results with integrity and good intent is one of the fastest ways to establish trust, both within an organization and with its customers.

In low-trust environments, many leaders feel better seeing busyness. As a result, they call workers back to the office. Yet it’s that very sense of feeling monitored that can decrease productivity. 

That’s what makes trust so vital to individual and organizational success. Trust means there is no need for bosses to micromanage every step of the process. It means employees and teams of employees entrusted with a project can be left to fulfill their assignments based on their expertise, training, and skill sets, as well as commitments to deadlines. This allows space for some key drivers of performance: The freedom to take risks, make mistakes, and iterate to success whenever appropriate.

Of course, there needs to be a reckoning if an employee or team is not being effective. If they don’t deliver results, that needs to be addressed. But micromanagement and aggressive monitoring will not uncover problems sooner, but it will create a low-trust culture—potentially inflicting more damage on the business than any single employee could.

Indeed, without trust, productivity becomes an exercise in checking boxes. In a culture with low trust, a “tax” will be paid that results in an inferior product or service. 

Trust means inviting more ingenuity from your teams. If employees trust that the people leading them have their backs and they feel valued while doing work they find meaningful, they will bring a higher quality of thinking to the work; not because they are told to but because they want to. That trust “dividend” compounds to create high-trust cultures. Conversely, in a low-trust culture, productivity slumps, effectively leveling a tax.

Most jobs will always retain some element of a transaction. Employees are not going to work for free. But enhanced productivity is not always a transaction. People will not automatically work harder once they get a raise. They will, however, increase their productivity if they like and admire those with whom and for whom they work.

Workers who feel trusted are more likely to tap into new sources of creativity, take calculated risks, and not feel the need to put their creative energies into looking busy. 

In a low-trust environment, a lack of autonomy stifles employees’ initiative. It won’t matter if they are working from home or in an office. If a lack of trust exists, employees will only do just enough to not get fired. And they will spend a lot of time documenting what they are doing, and gaining explicit approvals for every step they take. This obviously hampers productivity.

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In high-trust workplaces, employees are encouraged to take initiative and implement creative solutions. The focus is not merely on the end product or service. It is not just the result that counts. It allows for a degree of freedom at the outset that gives those same employees a sense of ownership over the work. Trust empowers employees to take charge of their work. Productivity then becomes a measure of how they want to represent themselves to the wider world. That level of ownership will undoubtedly lead to better, and especially more creative, results.

When it comes to productivity, so much of what makes work effective rather than just rote is the quality of problem solving and decision making. Trust supercharges these processes. When employees trust their peers and leaders, they can speak openly about problems, collaborate on solutions, and make decisions with confidence. 

In a low-trust workplace, decision-making becomes cumbersome, and results cost more and take longer. As always, the price paid comes in both speed and cost. People are more hesitant to voice their concerns, and discussions are stifled by fear of disagreement. This leads to slow, ineffective, and error-prone decision making.

Productivity as measured in hours spent working may not look like it has been hurt by this very real slump. But the results of excessive effort spent negotiating between multiple bad paths that lead to worse outcomes will surely be felt when the final deliverable arrives.

In a high-trust workplace, open discussions and diverse viewpoints are encouraged. Employees can work independently for days, weeks, or even longer if there is widespread agreement. They can take calculated risks without close supervision. This nimble decision-making process results in swift solutions, efficient resource allocation, and increased productivity. Literally, the speed of trust.

Trust is not just a virtue but the fuel that propels workplaces toward greatness. It is not just a nice-to-have feature—it is a must have for achieving strong and growing productivity, and the resulting workplace excellence.