Do You Trust Your Boss?

How important is trust between employees and their supervisors in the workplace, and how can it be achieved?

One of the most basic aspects of all relationships is trust. One definition of trust is, “a firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone.” However, everyone has their own definition of trust coming from their life experiences. We know when we trust someone, and we know why we do not.

The Importance of Trust in the Workplace

Trust in the workplace is an important predictor of the success of the employees and management. Low trust, or even worse, nonexistent trust, leads at a minimum to low morale which leads to low productivity. Nonexistent trust can lead not just to a loss of productivity but also to a loss of a dynamic environment which can increase creativity in the workplace. As we all know the loss of trust in a relationship can lead to a serious deterioration in or even demise of the relationship.

Employees are not required to like their supervisor, and he or she is not required to like them. Likewise, employees are not required to trust their supervisor, and he or she is not required to trust them.

An employee is only required to do the job. Whether you stay at a job can be because you do like who you work for and because you also trust that person, but it also may just be the money that makes you stay.

But what if you could have both a work environment with a supervisor you both like and trust and just compensation for what you do? Most employees would choose to have both.

How does management create this environment where employees both like and trust their supervisors?

Employers spend a whole lot of time and money training their employees on the technical aspects of their job. Some even train their supervisors on how to be good supervisors. Supervisory training usually includes how to discipline, evaluate, and direct employees. Extraordinarily little time is spent by management on training supervisors on how to develop employee trust. It is supposed to be a given.

What are the benefits of a workplace where employees trust?

As noted above, one is productivity. Improved communication comes with increased trust.

When trust is built into an organization or relationship, decision-making is a faster process because the employees trust the decision-maker. These are just a few of the benefits. But most of all, an environment where trust is present leads to an environment where employees and supervisors share a joint purpose and desire to get the job done and to do it well.

How to Teach Trust

How do you teach trust? Many people think a person is either trusted or is not trusted and there is nothing that can be done about it.

Can a supervisor be taught how to build trust among the employees being supervised? Can you teach someone to trust their employees? Can trust be taught? It depends, in part, on the willingness of the supervisor to take the chance on learning to trust.

To learn to trust you must first learn the value of trust. If you believe trust has value, you will work harder to achieve it.

Noted above are several reasons for the value of being trusted. Once you accept the value of trust, learning about trust begins with teaching communication. The greater the communication, the greater the opportunity for trust.

One of the best ways to learn if you are a good communicator is to ask the people you communicate with.

Doing an anonymous assessment by the employees that you supervise will give you a good idea of how they perceive your communication skills. Ask them to rate your communications skills on a scale of 1 – 10. Have them write their assessment on a piece of paper. Have another employee tally the results. This will give you a rough idea of how your employees perceive you as a communicator.

You can then ask them what needs to be improved. This is how you learn to communicate better by asking people you communicate with how you are as a communicator. If the employees say your oral communication skills are poor, you can take classes to improve. The same goes for writing.

Doing an assessment of your communication skills is a good way to learn how to communicate better. Communication better can lead to greater trust.

Next, do an assessment of the level of trust. You will use the same process. Ask the employees anonymously to rate you on trust with a 1-10 scale. Once again, have an employee tally the results. This will give you a rough idea of how your employees perceive the level of trust they have.

You can follow this rating up with another anonymous assessment by asking the employees to write why they rated you the way they did. Have an employee put these responses on a flip chart.

Issues that lead to a loss of trust cannot be ignored or wished into nonexistence. Supervisors and employees must eventually discuss the events and conditions that led to the loss of trust. Once there is a mutual understanding of the causes, participants must commit to:

  • Forget things that resulted from misunderstandings and not from malice. Most people do not ever forget a perceived wrong done to them, however, when presented with facts previously unknown they may start the process of coming to understand better what took place. Some people may never entirely forget; however, they may come to understand that they were mistaken in their initial perception of past events. Emotions can cloud our judgment. When we can see things more clearly in retrospect, we may be able to let go of our reasons for losing trust.
  • Forgive and seek forgiveness for things that were done and have been acknowledged as inappropriate but are impossible to fix. Although past actions cannot always be rectified, actively accepting and/or giving a sincere apology may start you down the road to forgiveness. Most people have the innate ability to forgive transgressions if they do not reoccur, and they believe the perpetrator of the wrong is truly sorry.
  • Fix things that can be fixed to demonstrate a sincere desire to move forward in the relationship. Doing this can display your good faith in the other party, your willingness to make amends, and your commitment to rebuilding trust. However, once a commitment is made to fix something, it is going to be all important to the future health of the relationship for the party agreeing to fix something to follow through and make the fix.

Employees are the best teachers of trust. They can relate how a supervisor either was trusted or the reasons why the supervisor is not trusted. Improving trust takes a willingness to listen and then make changes. Once a supervisor believes trust is important the supervisor and his or her employees can work together to make a trusting environment a reality.

About the Author

Joe Swerdzewski, former General Counsel of the FLRA & owner of JSA LLC is the author of The Essential Guide to Federal Labor Relations, A Guide to Successful Federal Sector Collective Bargaining, etc. For more info on JSA’s services, email or subscribe to JSA’s newsletter.