Trusting relationships in the workplace – Opportunity or pitfall?

Trusting relationships in the workplace – Opportunity or pitfall?


Odile Poupart, CPA, CA

Senior Director, Finance et administration

Whether it is to reduce sources of friction, optimize team work, prepare the workforce of tomorrow, transfer knowledge, introduce a change, etc., maintaining an environment of trust in the workplace is key. And yet, studies generally show that different generations perceive trusting relationships differently. Where does the situation stand and how do we deal with this central workplace issue?

Trust: a more important value to some than others

With a few exceptions, we usually find several generations working together within the same organization, namely Generation Z (aged 20-), Generation Y (aged 20-35), Generation X (aged 35-49) and Baby Boomers (aged 50+). The good news is that they all have one point in common: they all seek increased collaboration, communication and trust with other generations.

The stumbling block is that they all perceive trust differently.

To maintain trust on the long-term, the following pieces must be in place: intellectual curiosity, transparency, two-way communication and clear messages understood by all. To this I would add the sense of belonging. Without getting into stereotypes, I’ve noticed the following general traits from my reading (and field observations):

  • Baby Boomers have the most difficulty trusting younger generations, whom they see as disrespectful, arrogant and disloyal. They prize their values and the company code, and they demand respect.
  • The Gen Xs don’t blindly trust leaders and are generally more guarded. They are very engaged in their work and spare no effort to advance their careers but are wary of hierarchies.
  • Millennials (or Gen Ys) don’t have the same expectations as their predecessors.
  • Since they entered the job market during an unstable period, their lives don’t revolve around their careers or jobs. They aim to create a balance between their personal and professional lives and will change jobs in a flash if their current one no longer corresponds to their aspirations or convictions.
  • For the Ys, trust in the management team plays a crucial role. This generation aspires to reduce hierarchies and make dialogue central to decision-making. Their self-assurance and self-confidence make them clearly different from other generations. Finally, they want autonomy and the leeway to make mistakes. Some companies have understood this, like Decathlon’s Brossard store, which adopted this model to very good performance results.
  • The Zs, born in the technology and social media era, are almost always connected. This instantaneous access influences the way they communicate and collaborate, but it also, especially, influences what they expect from a job: work schedules and locations must be flexible. They are self-assured, aspire to transparency and want a collaborative and fun workplace. Another observation: this generation of workers is increasingly sensitive to women’s rights and expects gender equality. Driven by their self-confidence, they don’t easily trust their superiors and they value communication above all.

Achieving harmony

As company management, we need to be aware of these distinctions in order to respond to each generation’s needs and maintain harmony. For all aspects that directly or indirectly affect employees in their duties, communicating with clear and concise messages is crucial. In other words, aim for transparency. Asking questions, listening and being available will help you prevent certain issues, appreciate employees as individuals, strengthen the feeling of belonging and often generate new ideas. Do you share this point of view?