Build Belonging at Work By Understanding the Four Pillars of Trust

Build Belonging at Work By Understanding the Four Pillars of Trust

An excerpt from Lauren Parsons’ book ‘Thriving Leaders Thriving Teams’.

To build trust and belonging people need to feel:

  1. SAFE – to feel secure, to trust their colleagues and have the confidence to share openly and take measured risks
  2. INCLUDED – to feel welcomed and accepted as they are and have a deep sense of authentic connection with their team mates

Let’s look at the first half of this equation.

1. Ensuring People Feel Safe

Leaders who make people feel safe help them perform at their peak. In the workplace, where team members change over time, you need to constantly work on maintaining a culture of trust.

Trust lifts engagement. A 2019 global study of over 19,000 people showed that individuals are 12 times more likely to be fully engaged if they trust their team leader. Lack of trust leads to resentment, disengagement, poor wellbeing, burnout and ultimately, people quitting.

Neuroscientist Paul Zak’s research compared companies with high-trust against those with low-trust. He found staff at high-trust companies reported: 

  • 74% less stress.
  • 106% more energy at work.
  • 50% higher productivity.
  • 13% fewer sick days.
  • 76% more engagement.
  • 29% more satisfaction with their lives.
  • 40% less burnout. 

Trust is the next thing we need after food, water and shelter (although these days, some people might argue it’s Wi-Fi!) When you think of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, safety sits right above physiological needs. Quite simply, people need to feel safe, otherwise their brain will constantly loop back to focus on what they have to do to remain safe. Belonging is above safety in the hierarchy of needs, so you must first feel safe before you feel you belong. 

I’ve heard countless stories of people whose leaders made them feel intimidated, inferior, judged, diminished and afraid. Picture what it’d be like coming to work every day feeling like that. Imagine the negative flow-on effects – both for that individual’s wellbeing and for their performance. 

Our brains are wired to detect and deal with threats. At work, most threats aren’t physical. More often we’re faced with social or emotional threats, such as worries we might not meet a deadline, or make a mistake during a presentation. 

Physiologically, your brain can’t function well when you’re on high alert. The stress response causes the amygdala in your brain to act as an alarm bell, causing the pituitary gland to tell the adrenal glands to release stress hormones, while shutting down the pre-frontal cortex. This is a terrible outcome, because your pre-frontal cortex is critical for reasoning, problem-solving, impulse control and creativity. Right in the moment when you need to make great decisions, you’re cognitively handicapped.

Individuals and teams can only work effectively when their leaders create a safe environment. Rather than expending energy worrying about their own safety, security or position within the team, in a safe environment people can focus on what needs to be done and work together to produce fantastic results.


So how do you build that safe, high-trust environment? Let’s look at the four pillars of trust and practical ways to strengthen it within your team.

Trust doesn’t happen by accident. It’s all about perceptions. The perceptions people form are based on your behaviour. Trust needs to be built and maintained over time, and because different people will each have a slightly different idea of what trust means to them, without a common definition it’s much harder to establish.

A study by the Canadian Military defined four dimensions as the pillars of trust within teams, giving us a common way to define it:

  1. Competence is exhibiting skills, competencies and characteristics that allow you to have influence in some domain. 
  2. Integrity is being seen as honourable and your words matching your actions. 
  3. Benevolence is being considered as genuinely caring and concerned. 
  4. Predictability is being seen as having consistent behaviour.

Consider how your team perceives you in terms of these four factors. Remember that perception is everything. You may, for example, have good integrity, but how does your team know that? Think of the behaviours you display that help or hinder your team perceiving they can trust you.

Interestingly, two of the pillars are considered ‘fatal flaws’. A lack of these two things breaks trust:

  • Lack of benevolence. 
  • Lack of predictability.

Nothing destroys trust more than making people feel like you don’t care about them, or being unpredictable and inconsistent. 

You can be a highly capable, competent person, with good integrity and show up consistently, but if your team doesn’t feel you genuinely care about them, they will not trust you. Benevolence is a vital part of the trust equation – taking an interest in your team and demonstrating you care about their welfare.

Likewise, you can be an engaged, competent person with good integrity, who really cares about your team, but if you’re unpredictable – being easy-going one day, short-tempered the next, and inconsistent in your decision making – then it’s difficult for your team to trust you. People will lose confidence as they’re unsure what’ll happen next or how you’ll react. 

You only need to be perceived as having ‘enough’ competence and integrity. Team members want to work with leaders who are good at what they do and who stand by their word, but the reality is that no one expects you to be perfect. What’s critical, is to show up consistently and to show your team you care about them. That builds the sort of trust where people will follow you around blind corners.

It’s worth doing a regular audit to check how well you display each of the four factors. 

Enjoyed this article? 

To find out more about building trust in your team read the whole Thriving Leaders, Thriving Teams book. Order your copy today here. 

Complete will full colour, full page illustrations, it’s a fantastic guide to help you stop languishing and start flourishing.

“Wow – what a fantastic resource bringing together so much rich information and setting it out in an easily digestible format with great stories and examples!” – Rachael Millar, General Manager

“An invaluable tool for developing leadership skills with lots of practical strategies” – Sonya Veale, Practice Manager

“This book is a must-have for all leaders. It is comprehensive, practical and easy to read! Lauren dives into the research, reasons and realities of the workplace and gives simple yet effective strategies and advice, both personally and professionally, to ensure you and your team thrive.” – Karen-Tui Boyes CEO Spectrum Education, Author, Speaker, Educator

“A fantastic guide to enhance your personal and workplace wellbeing. A must read.” – Vicki Carne, Wellbeing Coach


Lauren is a multi-award-winning Wellbeing Specialist who believes that everyone deserves to thrive. With over 20 years’ experience, she is passionate about helping busy people re-discover how to feel vibrant, confident and energised.

Awarded NZ Keynote Speaker of the Year and Educator of the Year 2023/24 by the Professional Speakers Association. Lauren is a sought-after international speaker and one of only a dozen Certified Speaking Professionals in New Zealand, who integrates her wellness and business background to help leaders find the sweet spot between boosting both wellbeing and productivity.

TEDx speaker, Author of Thriving Leaders Thriving Teams and Real Food Less Fuss, Founder of the Snack on Exercise movement and host of the Thrive TV Show. Described as inspiring and life-changing, Lauren is a dynamic and highly-engaging presenter, and master story-teller who will have you laughing, moving and learning in a memorable way. Whether it’s virtual or in-person, you will leave Lauren’s session feeling uplifted and empowered to create positive change!

Based in the Manawatu, New Zealand, where she lives with her husband and three children, Lauren can often be found hosting dinner parties, playing board games, or spending time outdoors. She travels regularly to speak at conferences and in-house and specialises in helping organisations create a high-energy, peak-performance team culture, where people thrive.

To find out about working with Lauren for Leadership Development, Executive Coaching, Motivational Team Training or Conference Keynotes, visit 

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