5 Reasons Your Employees Don’t Trust You

Do you trust your employees? Do your employees trust you? How can you be sure? 

If you are in a position to claim that you and your colleagues are trustworthy, congratulations! Your company is on the road to achieving great results. If you’re unsure, though, now is the time to search for causes of and remedies for distrust within the workplace. 

The general perception employees have of managers is that they’re some type of Big Brother entity that observes and analyzes their attitudes and performances at work. The feeling of being watched and examined can adversely affect the relationship workers develop with their managers. Consequently, this may translate into a lack of trust. 

Is Trust Important in the Workplace?

The question is clearly rhetorical. Trust is the glue of society, and it is fundamental in any human relationship. When managers trust their employees and vice versa, both parties can build meaningful relationships and perform better at work. 

Yet this seems an unresolved matter for most organizations. 

Breathe’s Culture Economy Report investigated the importance of workplace trust in small businesses, and its findings are surprisingly revealing: Only 43% of employees trust their business leaders and managers. This is a 16% decline in trust since 2018.

Lack of trust is one of the biggest expenses for organizations. Stephen M.R. Covey, author of The Speed of Trust, claims that trust in the workplace is a significant economic driver. While difficult to measure, you should contemplate the following hard costs of low trust in the workplace: 

  • Lost sales and clients
  • Emotional detachment from employees, which might lead to lower workplace engagement
  • Lack of interest in the success of the organization
  • Minimal effort needed to stay employed
  • Annoyance that can transform into anger, which could translate into sabotaging behavior directed at equipment or products
  • Destructive rumors and unethical activities

The relationship between trust and performance has been analyzed by many HR specialists and economists. Paul J. Zak, a published author, Harvard researcher, and founding director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies, claims that employees at high-trust companies report lower stress levels and are more engaged and productive. Zak’s research found that employees who trust their managers also have fewer sick days and feel more satisfied with their lives. 

Signs of Distrust

Unsure about how trustworthy you are to your subordinates? The list below might give you an idea of how to identify whether you’ve lost your employees’ trust. 

  • If your team was always happy to bring ideas to the table, ask questions, or share concerns, and all of a sudden they have stopped, it’s likely their trust in you has diminished.
  • Have you noticed that there are conflicts of interest or tension between departments? If you haven’t heard about this from your workmates, you should ask yourself if this could be related to a lack of trust in you as an authority figure.
  • When your team stops sharing their impressions of the work, the company, and its leaders with you, this could mean they no longer trust you with that information. 
  • Picture this: A group of employees in your office is chatting amicably while they’re making coffee. You go to the kitchen to prepare yourself a drink. If they stop talking and smile at you, they’re likely preventing you from joining the conversation, a clear sign of distrust. 
  • When you ask your teammates for ideas or feedback to improve processes or to push projects through, and they remain silent, it’s possible they’re not interested in speaking up because they don’t trust you’ll implement any of their suggestions. 

The 5 Main Reasons Why Employees Don’t Trust Their Leaders 

A study carried out by Harvard Business Review found that there are three key factors that drive trust in leadership: consistency, good judgment, and positive relationships. And there are five reasons why you’re probably failing to achieve these. 

1. Inefficient and Irregular Communication

If your teammates perceive that you’re not being honest when you communicate with them, trust can be broken. A lack of transparency could threaten confidence in leadership. 

A good example of this could be a situation in which you decide not to share all the details of a project or a decision. Even if you do this with the best of intentions, employees will automatically feel uneasy and insecure if they sense you’re withholding information. 

Honesty and transparency are often the best policy, especially when trust is at stake.

2. Leadership Selection Is Not Effective 

Rewarding someone with a managerial role is never an easy decision, and it shouldn’t be. Businesses should consider multiple factors when choosing someone to become a manager because employees are watching and deciding whether the selection is fair. 

When employees perceive other colleagues as undeserving of a promotion or that a managerial role has been given to the incorrect person for the wrong reasons, they’ll likely start to question their leaders’ judgement.

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3. Employees Feel They’re Being Treated Unfairly

One of the golden rules of trust in the workplace is “treat employees fairly, not equally.”

When your subordinates feel as though they’re not being treated fairly, they will lose motivation and respect for management. Bear in mind that treating employees fairly doesn’t always mean treating them all the same. 

Remember to take into account each person’s circumstances, as well as their performance and tenure. For example, if two employees request to work from home, you’d say yes to both of them if your idea was to treat them equally. However, the fair thing to do would be to consider their individual circumstances before making a decision. 

When you lead with transparent fairness, people will be trust you.

4. Lack of Investment in Employees’ Careers and Progress

When workers think they’re not making any progress in their careers or that their employer is not providing them with the training they need, they will feel as though they’re dispensable and will distrust any decisions their managers make.  

In contrast, if managers offer continuous training and support, this will show employees that their leaders want them around, believe in their potential, and care about their futures at the company.

5. Failure to Take Ownership of Mistakes

Taking responsibility for your mistakes is a powerful tool of leadership. It’s the way to embody a strong character and earn respect. 

When managers fail to acknowledge their mistakes and learn from them, they’re demonstrating to their team a lack of responsibility and professionalism. Even worse, when a leader makes a mistake and points the finger at someone else, trust could be completely destroyed. 

Knowing that trust within an organization translates directly into better financial performance should be enough of a reason to start paying more attention to how much your employees trust you. Building a meaningful relationship with your teammates is a key factor in the success of any business. Trust is powerful, and leaders should work hard to earn and keep it.  

Stuart Hearn is a leading performance management specialist who has been working in the HR sector for over 20 years. He is passionate about moving performance management forward and is currently CEO of Clear Review, an innovative performance management software system. He previously worked for Sony Music Publishing and was a co-founder of PlusHR.

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