Trust is often cited as a cornerstone in building successful workplace relationships with employees and customers. Unlike programs that can be planned, implemented and communicated to all employees, trust has to be established through each workplace interaction. It only can be gained if the organization’s leaders and employees are attentive to a number of key factors, including ethics, credibility and integrity.

Breaches of trust have adverse consequences. Depending on their magnitude and scope, they can damage relationships, undermine overall organizations, or have a negative impact on society at large. In recent years, widespread unethical conduct in Corporate America has contributed to and exacerbated economic challenges on a global scale.

These economic conditions have placed increased stress on relationships between employers and employees in many organizations. According to Deloitte LLP’s fourth annual Ethics & Workplace Survey conducted in 2010, one-third of employed Americans plan to look for a new job when the economy gets better. Within this group of respondents, the primary reasons cited for looking for other employment were a loss of trust in their employers (48 percent) and a lack of transparent communication from the organization’s leadership (46 percent). Additionally, a large majority (65 percent) of the Fortune 1000 executives surveyed believe that trust will be a factor in a potential increase in voluntary turnover during the months ahead.

The study’s findings reinforce the need for organizations to cultivate trust with employees. It also points out the impact that a loss of trust can have on the bottom line. In the event that these projections become a reality, employers can anticipate increased costs associated with hiring and training new employees. Other ramifications, including decreased productivity, can result if employees with institutional knowledge seek employment opportunities elsewhere.

Employers can mitigate or reverse these projected trends by acting as role models and cultivating a culture of trust within their organizations. As individuals, each employee can have a positive influence on the workplace environment by taking steps, such as the following, to develop and maintain trust in day-to-day relationships:

  1. Be mindful that trust is fragile when making decisions that have the potential to jeopardize the confidence that others have in their relationships with you. Pause and reflect on alternative courses of action that will not undermine the trust that has been established.
  2. Guard against the dangers of using rationalizations or other excuses to justify decisions or actions that violate ethical principles or organizational expectations. This faulty reasoning can be used to provide justification for taking inappropriate, and in some cases, illegal actions. It also can be used to avoid taking responsibility for negative outcomes that could have been prevented.
  3. “Walk the talk” on an ongoing basis. Pay attention to your words and actions to ensure that they are consistent with one another.
  4. Apply a “glass house standard” in gauging your integrity. Consider how your conduct would be perceived if videos of your workplace interactions were e-mailed to each of your business associates or placed on YouTube for all to view.
  5. Communicate a consistent message rather than changing your viewpoints according to what you believe each audience would like for you to say. Others will lose confidence in your ability to provide guidance if your perspectives flip flop based on listeners’ expectations.
  6. Recognize that workplace relationships can be harmed by engaging in gossip or making negative comments about others who are not present. Before engaging in these types of discussions, consider the quote by Ruth Anne Crouse, “What Peter tells me about Paul tells me more about Peter than it tells me about Paul.”
  7. Be truthful in your communications. You will undermine or destroy trust if you knowingly make false statements or provide incorrect information.
  8. Only make commitments that you intend to fulfill. In the event that unforeseen obstacles prevent you from accomplishing what was agreed upon, inform appropriate parties promptly.
  9. Maintain confidentiality based on job requirements and assurances that you have provided. Do not be swayed if others ask you to divulge information, regardless of whether they promise to keep it in the strictest confidence.
  10. Understand that criticizing others in public can cause resentment and embarrass all who are present. However, offering constructive criticism in private can increase your potential of preserving relationships and accomplishing other intended objectives.
  11. Work to create an overall environment that is conducive to enhancing trust in your workplace relationships. Focus on factors such as developing respect, listening for understanding, acting on facts rather than assumptions, and resolving conflicts with civility.

*Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the Memphis Business Journal