Feedback as 'Gifts' and Weeding out Gossip : Building Trust at the Workplace

Rachel Ong, Chief Executive and Co-founder of workplace consultancy ROHEI, shares how to cultivate a positive trust culture at work.

15 Sep 2022 Articles Work-life harmony Best practices

Q: What are some ways in which you and your management team have built a positive trust culture?

At ROHEI, we believe one way to gain trust is to give trust. Our staff refer to feedback as a gift.      

Once, an intern told me, “I have a gift for you.” He said I had asked him “How are you?” but moved on before he could give a reply. 

His feedback was that if I have no time to wait for a response, I should not ask the question. And he was right. Being receptive to such communication is so important. The day we stop receiving feedback is when we stop learning and growing.

We also work with the purpose of “honouring people and results”. Each of our employees has a mentor, so they are plugged into the work community. The senior management is also attached to a coach. With this, everyone feels valued and seen, regardless of their role and title in the company.

Q: What have been some tangible outcomes as a result?

With our focus on trust, there is no culture of workplace gossip in ROHEI because we believe in reconciling immediately if we offend someone. We are very proud that we were found to have “no politics and backstabbing behaviours” in a recent survey by human resource consultancy Great Place to Work. 

In a conflict, apologising may seem weak, but it actually takes a strong person to apologise. At ROHEI, we are willing to apologise and share our feelings even if it entails being vulnerable with one another. 

Without such reconciliation, the workplace will become toxic as it is natural to speak with colleagues about how another person has offended you. This will cause trust to wither, and we do not tolerate that.

ROHEI has a workforce of approximately 70 employees, and the attrition rate has remained low due to the strong foundation of trust. In fact, the 10 of us who started ROHEI together are still here 15 years later, which is quite uncommon.  

Q: Where should companies start when building a culture of trust?

Leaders should set an example; cultivating trust comes from us first at the senior level.      

The leadership at ROHEI is not myopic in the way we manage people –staff have autonomy to carry out their work the way they prefer. When they receive such creative flexibility, it reinforces the value of entrusting a task to others, and they will then extend the same trust to their colleagues.  

As leaders, we recognise that values and behaviours are ‘caught and not taught’, and we have the responsibility of showing our team how it is done by modelling it ourselves.

Q: What are some challenges in building a culture of trust?

Workplaces that lack a positive trust culture tend to have damaged relationships. It’s common when we initiate the reconciliation process for clients with low trust and high levels of gossip, to unearth a substantial amount of misunderstanding that needs to be addressed. 

One of our clients faced low trust levels and high turnover rates. They were identified to have a prevalent gossip culture that created hurt feelings amongst employees, and thus, these issues needed to be worked through. It was an emotional yet necessary reconciliation process. Through individual coaching and bringing leaders together for deeper discussions on the current workplace realities, they were able to establish healthy and acceptable levels of trust across the organisation and curb employee attrition.

While this is only possible through the joint effort of staff, the leadership plays a significant part in the success by making trust-building a key business priority and taking the lead to drive a healthier workplace culture. We believe culture is determined by the worst behaviour leaders tolerate and how we respond to it. For instance, we don’t tolerate gossip and financial impropriety. But we also believe in affirming good actions in public and correcting in private.

Q: How does having a positive trust culture help in the implementation of flexible work arrangements?

A trust culture creates an atmosphere of accountability. 

When there is trust from leaders, the staff reciprocate by being accountable for their work and time. At ROHEI, department heads have shared that staff ask for permission to run errands when they are working from home – even when there is no need to inform us. This level of communication assures us that staff are on task and perpetuates the cycle of giving and gaining trust at the workplace, which is especially important when we do not see our colleagues in person. 

At ROHEI, we emphasise the importance of trust because we believe in the value and significance of our work and want to appreciate employees. This is only possible with a healthy work environment where staff have the psychological safety to journey alongside us.

In an age where visible results are highly valued, trust may seem unfashionable and can be underrated. However, focusing on nurturing a trust culture is a sustainable way to achieve organisational objectives. The company will be built to stand the test of time – both in performance outcomes and work relationships – this is what employers must understand about leading their organisations.