Starting with trust: how strong relationships create inclusive workplaces


Two professionals sit on a window-seat in an office that overlooks a city skyline. One wears a hearing aid and holds a laptop in their lap.

The movement to make workplaces more inclusive has taken massive strides, however, a recent survey found that 90% of people with disabilities still don’t feel a true sense of belonging at work. Employers might be wondering, how can we bring inclusion to the next level and create workplaces where everyone belongs?

As an accessibility professional, I’ve witnessed how relationships transform work environments firsthand; and the way we form strong relationships at work is by building trust. Trust creates a climate of mutual respect, psychological and emotional safety, and dependability. Research backs up the connection between trust and satisfaction at work; in fact, employees from high-trust companies report 74% less stress, 50% higher productivity, 76% more engagement, and 40% less burnout when compared to companies with low reported trust.

Let’s level-up inclusion by working on relationships.

Inclusion + relationships = belonging.

Without strong relationships, our employees are at a greater risk of feeling socially isolated, burnt out, and dissatisfied in their roles. True inclusion at work is a win-win: Employees are happier, and companies have higher retention, productivity, and diversity. Here are a couple things we can do to get started: take a person-centered approach and use active listening.

A person-centered approach

A person-centered approach is exactly what it sounds like: We let each unique person guide us on how to best support them to be set up for success. When we start with trust, employees can feel safe and supported to be who they are and ask for what they need. Here are a few tips for using a person-centered approach:

Use active listening

Active listening differs from regular listening. Active listening sends the message that you are not only hearing them, you are understanding. You are showing that you have time for them and you care about what they have to say. Here are a few things to consider when using active listening:

Remember to maintain confidentiality when you have personal conversations with your colleagues. This maintains the trust we are trying to build, and promotes future positive interactions with this team member.

Putting these ideas into action

Practice your new skills by structuring relationship building opportunities into your workday. Here are a few ideas:

To feel like you belong, you must first feel known. With strong relationships founded upon trust, people feel safe to express who they are and ask for what they need. We must be intentional about building relationships in the workplace so that we can bring inclusion to the next level.

Cara Baudin (she/her) is an accessibility professional specializing in research, project management, and communications. She is a University of Victoria graduate with a B.A. in Psychology, and has worked in the non-profit sector supporting suicide prevention, adaptive recreation, and education. She is passionate about creating spaces where true belonging and inclusion exists.