Why Employees Lose Trust in Their Managers [And How To Avoid This]

One of the most important things I had to learn early on was that working with people requires trust. Employees, just like managers, value relationships built on trust. Not nurturing them affects everyone, and work performance can quickly deteriorate.

So what can cause employees to lose trust in their managers? In essence, employees lose trust in their managers when they feel they are being used, when managers don’t keep their word, or when they are no longer capable of leading them. 

Management stability and consistency are also factors that heavily influence this matter.

In my experiences over the years, I’ve identified some situations that can push employees towards losing trust in their managers. 

As you might have guessed, some of them happened to me firsthand as well.

There is no specific order to the topics below. I consider them all equally important.

Employees feel like they’re being used by their managers

This is a shortcut to deteriorating the relationships with your colleagues/employees. 

One of the worst things people can feel, as an employee or otherwise, is that someone is taking advantage of them. People know when they are being delegated a task for good reason or when their managers are just offloading work onto them

Furthermore, when managers don’t give credit for the work that was done, they intensify the effect. 

People are witty and can sense true intentions. As long as you have an open heart towards them, you can easily avoid sending the wrong signals. 

It’s a certainty that not all tasks are fun to do. To avoid any misunderstandings about why they must do them, you must present tasks in a transparent light. 

As a manager, you have to create purpose around every task. This will help in three ways:

  • You open the communication surrounding the details of the task
  • The employee is more likely to be motivated to go through with it
  • You set the foundation for having a successful process and satisfaction for getting the job done

The deadline also has to make sense for your team member. If possible, try to reach a consensus about it by taking into consideration their other tasks and priorities they currently have.

Employees don’t trust their manager’s competence

People doubting their manager’s competence is especially common when there’s a first-time manager in charge. Or maybe the last manager they really liked changed positions, and now they are “stuck” with you.

Proving competence is a long-term process achieved with frequent, small steps. 

The best approach to prove competence is to be consistent and improve your skills constantly. Competent managers know they don’t have all the answers and they are always looking for areas they need to improve. 

As a first-time manager, there may be a lack of self-trust in your competence. This is a normal process that will take time to develop.

Allow yourself to grow and don’t hide the fact you are learning – everybody else will observe this, so it makes no sense to project a fake image.

Experiences and hardships you’ll go through will build self-trust and your team will respect your evolution over time.

Being open about your progress can only bring out sympathy in others.

Speaking of competence, you should never make someone do something you don’t know how to do, or you can’t train them to do it. If you need to improve yourself, you should ask for your manager’s (or mentor’s) help before moving forward with that specific task. Again, transparency and staying true to yourself go a long way.

Everyone makes mistakes and you should be the first to point them out when the team is affected by yours. Of course, pointing them out is not enough – you have to act accordingly. 

Think about when you see someone else in a management position fail. How does that make you feel? What do you think they should do to fix it? 

Study yourself from an objective perspective every time you feel you could’ve done better and your abilities will improve. 

Managers have no sense of direction

Employees feel the need to follow their team leaders. Direction is very important when you’re constantly moving forward. If they see you are no longer interested in providing that for them, they will soon lose trust in you as a manager.

This is a problem often met by first-time managers. When you accept a management position, you also need to prepare a vision for the team you will be leading.

How many more sales do we need? How do we get there?
Do we have issues with the code? How should it look like six months from now?

These questions are endless, and they are specific to every domain. As a manager, you need to ask the right questions and conceive answers before the team can follow you. Otherwise, they will lose trust in your leadership. 

Remember, you are responsible for giving them focus and vision. Some will be able to auto-manage themselves but still won’t trust you if you don’t make an effort to help them.

If you have team members who don’t know what they’re doing or why they’re doing it, it’s time to take a close look before it gets worse. Take the time, just like with everything else, and set some pointers for the entire team. 

You can also set individual objectives for each team member.

The team notices no (human) efforts on the manager’s part

No matter what industry you’re working in, people need to feel cared for and listened to. As a manager, you should always check into their wellbeing and work struggles.

Your relationships with your team members will vary from one person to another, depending on how open they are in the workplace. That being said, if they no longer see no involvement from you, they will quickly paint you as a disinterested manager and that will affect the trust they put in you.

It’s a fact that some people need more attention than others. Your time should be split fairly between your team members.

You are not a robot.

Your team members are not robots.

Developing personal relationships, within reason, is part of being a great manager. Who knows? Maybe you’ll even become friends with some of them. But more on that topic in the future.

Employees are kept in the dark.

People expect to be informed on the latest company decisions and the changes other departments went through, among other news they are impacted by. 

If you want them to be transparent with you when they have a problem, you can bet they are wanting the same from you. 

Company-wide announcements, for example, can be done either via a mass email (HR or other top-management representatives) or trickled down via middle management. If you’re part of the latter and you don’t let them know at the right time, there’s a risk they will find out from their colleagues elsewhere. This will impact your image and affect their trust in you.

Communicate constantly about everything relevant to them.

Let’s presume there is uncertainty in the company and there are decisions still pending.

It’s still better to tell them “something is happening but it’s not final yet”, instead of keeping quiet and hoping they don’t notice. You need to assure them you’ll tell them everything when it’s done.

This small change in attitude will help build trust instead of losing it.

Employees feel like they can’t talk to their managers

Another factor that makes or breaks trust is the feeling that they can count on you to receive feedback properly. This is not only about communication but to your attitude towards their issues.

You need to make time for 1-on-1 sessions in which they get the chance to speak with you freely. If you don’t facilitate this for them, their trust in you may diminish and they may choose to go to someone else with their problems. As their direct manager, you want to avoid this.

During the discussions, your attitude will encourage them to speak with you about anything they believe to be relevant. Be open and mindful of your body language.

The process will not stop here. You need to write down action points whenever they imply you should step in and help, whatever the case may be. Afterward, arguably the most important part, you need to act and draw some conclusions on everything you noted.

Getting back to them with the final thoughts at a later date marks the end of the process and possibly opens a new topic of discussion.

If you don’t do this, they will feel the discussions were in vain, and they will lose trust in you.

As many other processes, it takes ongoing effort to sustain the communication exchange on the long term. So, make an effort and set time aside for your people.

Key takeaways

  • Building trust is a long-term process and it involves many aspects of the day-to-day activities.
  • Losing trust can occur in an instant, unfortunately.
  • As a manager, you must know the key factors that can make your team lose faith in you.
  • The easiest way to nurture relationships and develop trust is to treat people with empathy.
  • Putting yourself in their shoes makes the “job” much easier.

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