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Mutual Trust Is Key to the Success of Your Business

Trust is integral to every relationship imaginable. Lack of trust makes people suspicious, paranoid and on guard. It puts up barriers; it makes us small.

Black and white photo of two business men talking at a meeting.
 Arianna Huffington

This post is part of a series from Arianna Huffington, ahead of her appearance at the SHRM Annual Conference & Expo 2022 (SHRM22) to lead a conversation focused on the importance of workplace mental health and participate in the SHRM22 Executive Network Experience.

​Trust is integral to every relationship imaginable. Lack of trust makes people suspicious, paranoid and on guard. It puts up barriers; it makes us small. According to the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer, distrust is now society's default emotion. Where once we trusted people until they were proven untrustworthy, now we distrust until people are proven trustworthy.

The trust between employees and employers has never been more important. We've been through so much together in the last two years—lockdowns; creating an effective remote work strategy; illness and loss; parents juggling child care, homeschooling and work simultaneously; layoffs and closings; managing testing and implementing protocols to keep workers safe; and reboots and resignations. And the data tells us that employees have never had more faith in their employers. According to the Trust Barometer, 77% of those surveyed trust their employer over any other institution, including NGOs, government and media.  

We, as leaders, have a tremendous responsibility. Our workplaces, which we have the power to infuse with greatness or destroy with mediocrity, are the centers of trust for our entire society. We cannot take this responsibility lightly. People are depending on us like never before.

In the workplace, trust is the qualifier of any great team. Lao Tzu said, "He who does not trust enough will not be trusted." When we don't trust our people, they feel it—and they return it. When employees trust their leaders, they feel heard, appreciated, respected and valued. Those feelings lead us to give our best. We are more creative, more willing to take risks.

Trust significantly decreases stress in the workplace and lowers the risk of burnout. It increases loyalty.

Trust isn't something you can manipulate or strategize. It is born from character—doing the right thing as well as treating people with respect, kindness and active listening.

A lack of trust in the workplace leads to a toxic culture, and I'm sure we've all seen at some point in our careers what that can mean. Toxic cultures are led by fear, and in a fear-based environment, everyone is in survival mode. People are scared to say or do the wrong thing, so they do only what is required of them, never thinking creatively. Innovation is stalled.

What kind of workplace do you have? Is it virtually silent as you walk into a room, or are people excited and anxious to talk to you, brimming with thoughts and ideas? The latter is success.

What kind of workplace do you want? The answer should be that you want a workplace nurtured by trust.

For all I've said about building trust with your employees, the reverse is true, as well. Leaders need to be able to trust their people. That said, for better or worse, mutual trust is built when we choose to let go and trust our people. Our society's first instinct was to trust. In a period when our society is now doing the opposite, we must choose differently.

How do we convey to our employees a culture of trust? We encourage them to share their voices, and we listen. We are open and transparent in our communications, showing accountability.

Particularly in this era of uncertainty, we share information. We lead from the top down. It is just as important for people to see and hear from their CEOs as it is their direct managers.

We talk openly about the hard things, the sensitive topics. Our people need to know that we are on top of these issues and concerns.

In today's world, people need to feel a sense of purpose in their work. They need to know that our organization is having some positive social impact, and we need to communicate those efforts to them.

When you want to make a change, engage your employees in the process. When they feel their thoughts and concerns are being heard and taken into consideration, trust is earned.

In workplaces where people come first and feel empowered, trust is high. When trust is high, we get the best people have to offer. We get their creativity, energy, enthusiasm, loyalty and joy, which is the recipe for innovation and, ultimately, success. So, I ask you again: What kind of workplace do you want?

Arianna Huffington, founder and CEO of Thrive, will speak at SHRM22 in New Orleans on Tuesday, June 14.

SHRM Executive Network members receive complimentary access to SHRM22 and will be invited to a private VIP meet and greet with Huffington and other SHRM22 main stage speakers. Learn more.


​An organization run by AI is not a futuristic concept. Such technology is already a part of many workplaces and will continue to shape the labor market and HR. Here's how employers and employees can successfully manage generative AI and other AI-powered systems.