When any relationship is on the rocks, one of the worst possible solutions is resorting to paranoid attempts to exert control. Despite the obvious flaws of this approach, many managers end up making matters worse by showing employees a lack of trust.

Nowhere is this issue more evident than in the rise of monitoring software. Managers are using high-tech surveillance tools to monitor their employees’ personal blogs, their activities on and off the clock, and even their emotional states at work. It sounds creepy because it is.

The strategy might make sense to management, but the results are far from ideal. Studies show that under increasingly watchful employer eyes, workers experience increased stress, lower self-esteem, and decreased job satisfaction and productivity. In their attempts to ensure maximum employee efficiency, managers instead provoke team members to spend their time finding ways to circumvent this surveillance.

It’s a perplexing tactic considering that a study by Upwork predicts the majority of the workforce will be freelancing by 2027. The top reason for this shift? The Upwork study found that employees would rather be their own bosses than work for the ones they have.

Any reasonable person forced to use something like monitoring software would run to the nearest exit. As corporations create new rules, limit workplace freedoms, and micromanage workers, those employees — particularly Millennials, whose values are in direct conflict with these restrictions — will seek greener pastures.

A Matter of Trust

Instead of playing Big Brother, managers need to focus on building trust with their employees.

In contrast to the dismal picture of heavily monitored workforces, trusting work environments might make any employee think twice about seeking self-employment. Studies report that high-trust workforces are more engaged, suffer less stress and illness, and boast more energy at work.

When employees are in trusting environments, they feel free to contribute their whole selves and their best work every day. When they believe their voices matter, they are more likely to speak their minds and contribute their thoughts without fear of being reprimanded or having someone else take credit for their ideas.

Instead of anxiously trying to look good under the ever-watching eyes of their bosses, employees who feel trusted can focus on building their organizations. Imagine what could have been had companies like Theranos or Uber fostered environments where employees felt empowered to speak up about problems.

Putting People First

Fundamentally, building a culture of trust is about following a people-forward model. Under surveillance, by contrast, people lose any sense of creative agency. If employees can find more rewarding work and relationships beyond the traditional workplace, is it any surprise that they leave?

If you want to maintain a strong base of employees — and appeal to the growing crowd of freelance workers — you should take these five steps toward building a culture of trust:

  1. Hire whole people. Trust blossoms within genuine relationships. You’re not hiring robots — you’re looking for real, whole people who bring along all their passions, interests, relationships, and more. If you don’t invite team members to bring their whole selves to work every day, you will not build lasting trust with them.
  2. Be transparent and vulnerable. Trust is a two-way street. If you want your employees to be themselves at work, you need to do the same. You can still keep some measure of privacy as a manager, but you will build a firmer foundation of trust by being open about your interests and what’s going on in the company. Employees who feel informed about both the successes and the struggles of the organization will feel empowered to do their part.
  3. Reward smart risks (and failures). Fear breeds mistrust. If your staff members fear repercussions for failures, they won’t feel brave enough to task big risks. Make every effort to celebrate smart risks, even when they fail. The trust you build will reap incalculable rewards down the road.
  4. Prepare to diversify. An increasingly global, remote workforce means your team will be far more diverse. As you integrate more freelancers into your organization, establish trust with this increasingly diverse base by incorporating cultural training that fosters discussions about bias, cultural understanding, and the practical realities of collaboration across time zones. Your reward? The power of assimilating more diverse ways of thinking, which yields a 20% boost in innovation and a 30% reduction in unnecessary risks.
  5. Listen to your employees. You can only tap into the power of great employee ideas if you listen to your team members. More importantly, you will show your workers that you genuinely value their thoughts and opinions. Handing them some agency and influence will only keep the ideas flowing. Even when you’re unable to pursue a recommendation, the simple act of listening to your employees goes a long way.

As workers leave traditional workplaces behind, it’s tempting for managers to respond by tightening their grip. In the end, this approach only exacerbates the exodus. There is a better way, and it begins with building trust.

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