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Top 5 Reasons Employees Don’t Trust You

Top 5 Reasons Employees Don't Trust You

As a communication expert whose job it is to help repair the relationships between managers and employees, I’m acutely aware of the trouble rumors can cause in the workplace. While I try to avoid the rumor mill as much as possible, there are still days when my job seems to pull me into the thick of it.

Recently, I’ve been working with a client who has years of professional accomplishments under his belt. However, lack of respect from his staff has damaged the work environment. This client is adamant that he’s earned the respect of his employees – and while his accomplishments are certainly worthy of respect, his management style is unlikeable.

He reminds me of a very strict father figure, setting unreachable expectations for his employees. He has the best of intentions, but he intimidates his staff by constantly pointing out their mistakes (with the hope of helping them improve). His employees, fearing his criticism, have even started hiding their problems and mistakes.

I suggested my client meet with an employee to discuss a project that hadn’t gone too smoothly. I offered him a strategy to try: start the meeting by complimenting what the employee did well, then ask the employee for his own opinion of his performance, rather than piling on the criticism.

While my client implemented this strategy well, the employee was defensive and frightened, like a kid called into the principal’s office. He wasn’t very forthcoming, saying as little as possible to get the meeting over with quickly.

I can usually guess at the reasons for a lack of trust between managers and employees just by observing certain behaviors, but to help repair the broken relationships, it helps to know exactly what’s on everyone’s minds. Not everyone interprets situations the same way; in fact, people rarely do. Whenever I can, I try to gather different versions of the same events from various people.

My client struggled to come to terms with the truth I presented to him – that his employees don’t trust him. He did his best to hold on to every shred of his pride, battling over nuances and details (“it’s not trust, exactly”). But a problem can’t be fixed until it’s recognized and accepted.

Finally, I suggested my client make a first attempt at establishing trust by delegating a small task to one of his managers. This simple suggestion for my client to show faith in one of his employees was what ended up bringing me into the office rumor mill.

I received a call the next day from one of my client’s employees that confirmed my worst fears about just how deep the distrust in this company ran.

The recipient of the delegated task was angry! He’d been given the task of scheduling a meeting with the other managers. He didn’t see this as being entrusted with a responsibility; rather, he assumed he was being used as a scapegoat. If the meeting didn’t go well, the blame would be on his shoulders.

Why Care About Trust?

This is only one example of a variety of problems caused when trust between an employer and their employee breaks down. Broken trust wastes time and energy, and leaves emotions strained. Remember, happy employees do better work!

Employees need to trust their employer before they can respect their employer. Trust is essential for any good employer-employee relationship, and comes before cleverness and competence. Harvard social psychologist Amy Cuddy covers this in her 2016 book, Presence: “A warm, trustworthy person who is also strong elicits admiration, but only after you’ve established trust does your strength become a gift rather than a threat.”

So, where do you go from here? It should be clear – if you want respect from your employees, and if you want motivated employees who will help your business thrive, you need to build trust.

What Could Go Wrong

A good on-boarding schedule should be designed to build trust bit by bit, by sharing information in small doses and gradually rewarding your employee for their knowledge and loyalty by offering more responsibility.

Of course, we don’t live in a perfect world, and trust can break down for many different reasons. Often, trust can be damaged by something as simple as miscommunication.

It’s vital to re-establish trust as quickly as possible, and to do that, you need to first understand what went wrong. Here are five potential reasons your employees don’t trust you.

1. You have poor work habits.

Practice what you preach might be a cliché, but it still applies. If you’re disorganized, confused, and constantly showing up late and missing deadlines, what sort of example are you setting for your employees?

Being busy is no excuse; employees need to be confident that their boss is reliable, just like any other team member. If your employees can count on anyone to be punctual and prepared, it should be you.

2. You don’t talk to them.

Between dealing with clients, bringing in new business, and overseeing operations, most successful business owners aren’t left with much spare time. You probably spend plenty of time traveling to conferences and meetings and visiting job sites – and when you’re finally in the office, your phone doesn’t stop ringing!

However, no matter how busy you are, you still have relationships to maintain. You can’t build a successful employer-employee relationship without communication. Make time to connect with your employees on the most basic human level (talking) even if it’s just a chat by the water cooler.

3. You keep secrets from them.

As a boss, there are some secrets you absolutely have to keep, and that’s understandable. But don’t take the “need-to-know” style of communication too far. Withholding information about your company, brand, market, or clients might make your employees feel excluded, and will cause them to lose trust in you.

Start sharing information with your employees right from the start. Introduce your new employees to every member of your company, not just the “need-to-know” members. Don’t use information as a tool against your employees; instead, use information to engage your employees and make them feel more involved in your business.

4. You don’t praise their work.

Do you constantly focus on the negatives, even with the best of intentions? You might think criticism is the road to improvement, but being criticized by a superior makes employees feel vulnerable and wounded.

If you never praise your employees, they will expect criticism every time you discuss their performance. Whether or not it’s warranted, constant criticism will make employees defensive and difficult to motivate.

Put the old-school system of reward and punishment you grew up with aside. Pain is a poor motivator. Your employees won’t do better work if they feel threatened and vulnerable; instead, they will hide their mistakes and hesitate to seek help. But, if your employees trusted you not to criticize, they would bring you their problems right away, and solutions could be found.

5. You don’t keep promises.

Have your attempts at monetary incentives fallen flat? Misunderstandings can cause communication breakdowns, and bonuses open the door to a world of misunderstandings. More and more companies are transitioning away from bonuses to avoid the conflicts they cause.

The terms of bonuses are often incredibly vague, and more often than not, employees end up feeling strung along and cheated. Offering a “bonus” for “improved work” is too nebulous and uncertain. The pay out will always be too late and not enough for the recipient, and you, the boss, will look dishonest.

No matter the sum, all employees take money seriously. When it comes to money matters, employees want to believe their impression of what you say (and not the words themselves) will be reality. No matter how sizable of a bonus an employee receives, they will always feel like you’re keeping the bulk of the profit for yourself.

Try to remember: your employees don’t know who you are outside of the office. They discard every story they’ve heard about all the abandoned puppies you’ve rescued and the thousands of dollars you’ve raised for cancer research. Their impression of you is based solely on your behavior toward and interactions with them at work.

Also, remember that trust is a personal issue. No matter what rumors your employees have heard about you, they’ll base their decision to trust you on how you treat them individually.

To earn the respect of your employees, you have to build trust. No good can come from having a workplace full of distrust. If you know something’s not working in your office, and you can’t quite pinpoint the cause, take an objective look at the behavior of your employees. Are they defiant, defensive, and secretive? Are they not working to their full potential? You might have a trust issue.

What Could Go Right

When you look at things from your employees’ perspectives, it isn’t difficult to establish trust. What are your employees perceiving in your interactions? Are you distracted, or disinterested, when you communicate with them? Do you communicate with them at all?

Establishing genuine, open, honest, and respectful connections with your employees is the best way to build bonds based on trust. Trusting employees will make for a pleasant, productive workplace, and a supportive, motivated team to help you achieve your goals for your business.

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