Chain of Thought

Who Do You Trust? Apparently, Not Your Boss

Do you trust your boss? If so, you're in the distinct minority, according to a recent workforce study conducted by Kenexa titled Trust Matters. According to the study, 28% of all employees polled say they actively distrust their boss, and another 24% aren't sure if they trust their boss or not. Only 48% say they trust their boss.

Some of these studies, to be fair, poll such a small sample that the results are highly inconclusive, but Kenexa based its findings on a survey of more than 10,000 U.S. employees, plus another 1,000 globally.

According to Jack Wiley, founder and executive director of the Kenexa High Performance Institute, “These significant levels of distrust demand attention from HR professionals, as they have clear implications for employee retention and well-being, as well as organizational performance.”

I'd go a big step further than just alerting the HR department that there's a problem. I'd find out who these untrustworthy bosses are, why their employees find their behavior so undependable, and right the ship before an epidemic of bad bosses sinks the company.

Kenexa's study indicates that employees who distrust their leaders are seven times more likely to report they are mentally and physically unwell, and almost half of employees who distrust their leaders are seriously considering leaving their employer. And who could blame them? Bad economy or not, if you're working for a boss that simply cannot be trusted to conduct himself or herself in an honest and forthright matter, why would you stick around? If raises and promotions are always promised but never delivered, if downsizing is a constant occurrence at your company, if the boss is perceived to be somewhat shady or even blatantly incompetent – in short, if you feel like you're stuck in a “Dilbert” comic strip, then the law of diminishing returns seems to suggest that the sooner you move on, then the sooner your mental and physical health will start improving.

Robert Hurley, a Fordham University professor as well as a consultant, addresses this problem in his new book, The Decision to Trust. Although Hurley is writing more for managers than employees, he also points out how devious scoundrels (e.g., Bernie Madoff) can manipulate situations so that they can appear to be trustful when in reality they're the exact opposite. So it's important to understand exactly how easy it is for a thoroughly untrustworthy person to talk out of both sides of their mouths, slapping you on the back with one hand while they pick your pocket with the other.

Assuming that only highly ethical and reliable managers ever come to the MH&L website, following are five best practices Hurley recommends for bosses who not only want their employees to trust them, but are willing to go the extra mile to actually earn their trust:

1. Align your interests with those whose trust you want. You have to earn your employees' trust, and the best way to do that is to prove it by promoting their interests in a fair manner.

2. Demonstrate benevolent concern. If your employees sense that you're only in it for yourself, and that furthering your own career takes precedence over everything else, then nobody is going to trust you.

3. Develop and demonstrate capability in the matter at hand. If you can't make good on your commitments, it's better not to make them at all because your employees will stop believing you'll ever come through for them.

4. Create a track record of predictability and integrity. What motivates you to do the right thing? Do your employees respect you? Do you live by an unwavering code of honor?

5. Communicate, communicate, communicate... and do it clearly and openly.

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