Creating a culture of trust where employees feel safe to share

by 25 Sep 2012

How can employers create a culture of trust where employees can come forward and speak up about issues that are concerning them? Stuart King provides his tips.

I remember a shocking case of workplace bullying that I investigated some years ago. The case involved a 24 year old apprentice who killed himself because he felt he had no one to talk to, no one who he could trust. He felt he could not trust his managers and that he had no relationship with his employer. The very people in his team who were bullying him were the only ones who asked seemed to ask him if he was OK. Even though they did not really care and derided him if he did indeed share how he was feeling.

What is one lesson that we can learn from this case? Well, one observation I have made over time is that there are gamblers and visionaries in organisations. Visionaries care about the future, they invest in it and they create it. Visionaries care about the people who support them toward attaining their goal and they want to know if their people are OK.

People in organisations who are gamblers are typically short sighted. They care more about the here and now. They go through each day wondering how much they can ‘get away with’… and if they don’t get caught – they roll up the next day and do it all over again. They are self-interested and take risks with their people without engaging them or recognizing the contribution they make. They definitely never check on their colleagues’ wellbeing.

In order for people to be free to say if they are not OK, they need to feel safe. So, here is the rub: a lack of authenticity from people in organisations will not help people feel safe to disclose when they are not OK. People know when someone is not being real. So…… people ……. Be real.

Which brings me to my next point about ensuring trust and a feeling of safety within employee / manager relationships; asking about an employee’s well-being as well as saying thank-you in an authentic way gives recognition to people and allows them to feel valued. And taking a real interest in peoples’ lives brings multiple dividends; increased productivity and greater engagement usually occurs but also, and importantly, people will begin to feel safe. If the well-being of people is provided for they are far more likely to be able to ‘serve customers’ in the best way possible and you can easily see how this makes financial sense. Asking people if they are OK and thanking them for their daily efforts creates opportunities for people to reach out to their employer or others they trust and share with them if they are not OK. Creating a workplace culture where employees trust their leadership team and people feel safe enough to say how they really are is a powerful platform from which organisations can grow.

So how do you create a work culture where trust is inherent? Effective policies, systems and processes that support employee wellbeing are a minimum requirement but having an independent ‘help-line’ can help take a culture of caring to a higher level. An employee help-line is the most effective way of allowing people to have a voice about how they are feeling, for it to be recorded safely and shared with others. After all, everyone needs at least one buddy they can trust and can talk to. If your organisation does not have a buddy system then a help-line could help you prevent the minefield of emotional and financial costs associated with an employee who takes their problems to an external party, or internalises and self-sabotages to the detriment of their own wellbeing and others around them without you knowing about it.

So, are you willing to do the work to ensure that your people feel safe and are OK? Encouraging your leadership team to say Thank-you more frequently and authentically asking how their people are going day-to-day is a great start.


About the author 

Stuart King is Managing Director of Risk to Business and is a leading commentator on matters relating to diversity and inclusion in workplaces. For information on the Risk to Business Help Line, Investigation Services or a copy of the *National Report on Workplace Bullying please visit