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Ask a Recruiter: How Can Leaders & Managers Build Cultures of Trust?

Plus, 26 questions that deepen conversations

Building trust during a 1:1
Photo courtesy of SHVETS production

This article is part of InHerSight's Ask a Recruiter series. We ask recruiters from companies big and small to answer questions about job hunting, company culture, and more.

As the concept of trust at work continues to gain traction in the diversity, equity, and inclusion space, InHerSight asked a recruiter to discuss ways leaders and managers can build trust at work and how that affects job searchers as well as employees. Here, she explains why trust has become so important during the pandemic and how it can shape our work cultures. 

Meet Emily

I'm Emily Stark! I'm a seasoned career coach, certified resume writer, and life coach. I have worked in career services in higher ed and outplacement with clients ranging from new grad to execs and every professional step in between. My business Marketable Mama helps working and return-to-work moms land fulfilling roles through revitalized job search docs and client-centered coaching. You can check out more at

Trust in the workplace has always been important, but it’s generating more conversation now than it used to. Why do you think trust is becoming such a hot topic at the moment? 

I think trust is a big topic in the professional sphere right now because it’s been tarnished over the pandemic and made public on a large scale. If we step back and think about trust in our world it has been challenged deeply in politics, health care, and the government leaving the public riding a trust rollercoaster. Edelman’s 2021 Trust Barometer finds a “failed trust ecosystem” that people worldwide look to companies, and their leadership to bridge and boost trust in their communications, information vetting, and problem-solving. 

Working women were especially trust-ridden as millions were asked to take on the brunt of child-rearing, educating, and home labor during the pandemic while juggling half of the essential roles. It was an opportunity for employers and direct leadership to lend support and bring more options to working women, but in too many cases, that didn’t happen and women were pushed out of the workforce in mass numbers. Because of this traumatic hardship that went on for years, women, especially moms or women who plan to be, have increased their workforce expectations. The Great Reevaluation.  

What does the need for trust say about how employees are feeling or what they need from their workplaces?

That we expect acknowledgment of our whole selves. This isn’t limited to women and mothers, the fractures of the pandemic opened up a platform for people of all races, genders, and sexual orientations to think about what trust looks like in the workplace. For many that I work with, they want to see their work and whole selves valued. There are myriad ways a workplace can show their employees are uniquely valued. Just a few: open conversations about their whole life, questions about the type of support they need, asking how they want to grow in their career and consistently facilitating opportunities for that, employee resource groups and mentorship to feel connected within a community at work. I think trust is at the foundation of post-pandemic growth. “How can we build more trust?” is a conversation that desperately needs to be incorporated in business planning. 

How can focusing on trust make our work cultures, and even our lives, better? 

I recently listened to a podcast interview with Martha I. Finney and Susan Schmitt Winchester authors of the book Healing at Work and it really opened my eyes to the opportunity for people to have life-changing, positive experiences at work to heal. For many people, they come to work with existing stories of tarnished trust, whether it be their family, marriage, childhood, etc. Interactions and experience at work can help to reframe those stories through trust-building experiences. 

Every person has an opportunity to contribute to the trust of their work teams and overall culture. There’s so much power in that. I recently read that Huffington Post Australia calculated that most people spend an average of 13 years at work compared to one year socializing with friends in a lifetime. With all this time, the lines of friendship and family are blurred with our coworkers; there's ample opportunity to develop strong relationships that can redefine trust to ripple through socially, emotionally, and psychologically. 

When we intentionally add trust-building actions into these relationships it can be transformative, especially for people who have experienced workplace trauma in their past based on negative biases. If more people think about the whole person, we take into account the past that they’re bringing into work and that adds to their value. Diversifying our work teams is a sure way to expand trust opportunities because it opens more channels to empathize, heal, and grow together. 

Read more: Ask a Recruiter: How Can I Move On After Working in a Toxic Environment?

What are the key components of trust at work, and who is responsible for establishing that trust?

Newfound work expectations are driving more trust in the workplace. Big picture components like salary transparency, paid family leave, flexible work schedules, and diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts are just a few organizational changes that contribute to overall trust. Candidates are flocking to workplaces that embrace these practices, leaving those that don’t with big retention and engagement issues. But a company can’t post their paid family leave plan and dust their hands of future trust work. 

Trust-building is consistent day-to-day practice. Leaders certainly should model fairness and trust because it sets the tone to value trust through the layers of a company’s structure. I often look to the Great Places to Work certificate when gauging a company’s trust and often encourage clients to look for this when building a target list for their job search. Each company on the Great Places to Work list has gone through rigorous surveys and analysis based on a unique trust metric. The trust model consists of five dimensions: credibility, respect, fairness, pride, and camaraderie. For anyone wanting to formalize a trust improvement plan, start there. 

If you want to build more trust among your work team, you can take ownership and infuse more transparency, honesty, and open conversations within your daily interactions. Also, following through with work commitments and building a reputation of supporting others is a positive stride that is sure to reverberate out to the rest of your team. Anyone can reshape a work team’s trust culture through consistency and commitment. 

What are some ways employers can build cultures of trust? 

This question is so important. Nearly 90 percent of the working women I have coached since starting Marketable Mama have left or plan to leave their jobs because of broken trust by their managers, and these women are rockstars at work. This story is growing more common and is a big loss for companies. 

One thing managers can do to build trust with others is build trust with themselves. When we question our skills and leadership, we tend to act out of these insecurities. Taking credit for someone else’s work, speaking over a person in a meeting, dismissing ideas, or withholding growth opportunities are all features that an insecure manager may display that’ll seriously dampen trust with their employees. Leadership coaching helps. 

Team cohesion builds trust. Now when we think of team closeness, leaders have historically budgeted for more team-building activities or scheduling chat time before a meeting begins—those don’t deliver real trust results. Building trust doesn’t cost anything. It’s all about consistently making time to connect with each individual, genuinely listening, and churning feedback into tangible change. Scheduling 1:1s, transparent conversations about how work-life integration is looking for them right now, sharing resources like therapy imbedded into benefits packages and encouraging space in their work schedule for sessions, asking about projects that are fueling them and which ones they want to scale down, talking about travel and in-office or work-from-home options, not micromanaging and showing more trust in their work. 

Building a culture of trust isn’t a blanket fix. Like each person has a different love language, there’s a unique way to build their trust. Asking each employee about their unique needs, goals, and feelings is the first step to build a strong foundation of trust. 

Are there ways to reestablish trust if it’s already been lost?

100 percent. In my experience, when a trust breaker owns up to their action that burned trust, it carries a heavy weight in the process of rebuilding. There was a season when our team desired changes that better accommodated our families. When we advocated for them, there was a clear detachment and lack of backing us on this critical initiative from our leader. We were all deeply disappointed that she didn’t empathize with us. I felt a significant loss in trust. It began to cripple our whole team dynamic. She called a meeting, overtly shared that she was wrong, and wanted to rectify her decision to support us. That’s when the trust started to grow back. 

We are humans. We make mistakes. Those mistakes can make detrimental impacts. When we face those mistakes and ask for help mending the fractures and show consistent efforts to change the narrative, we can build trust. I’d even go to say the process of reestablishing trust after a mistake can result in a deeper trust than the team previously had. 

What are some questions managers and leaders can ask to establish more trust with their employees?

  • What’s been your favorite day at work?
  • What projects are most meaningful to you?
  • What do you enjoy about your work load right now?
  • What type of work do you want to keep doing?
  • What type of work is draining and not contributing to your overall career vision?
  • How do you feel during our team meetings?
  • What helps you to feel comfortable to share your ideas?
  • What do you need to feel prepared to complete this task?
  • What hurdles are you experiencing right now?
  • What do you need to feel more committed to your work/team?
  • How would you rate your level of engagement right now? How do you feel about that number?
  • When you talk about work to your friends and family, what comes up?
  • How did you feel coming into work today?
  • Do you feel your workload is manageable?
  • I see such value in your unique …..
  • What do you need to feel successful?
  • Can we meet before to prepare/ after to debrief?
  • How can I help you grow?
  • Can we set up some time to develop a growth plan for you?
  • I want you to know you can share with me.
  • I want you to know I value you. How can I show that better?
  • What roadblocks have you faced in internal and external team collaborations?
  • How can we make the teams’ structure more fluid?
  • Tell me about your comfort level with our team.
  • How have you felt working with the team on group projects?
  • What does team trust look like for you? 

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