When The Boss Doesn’t Trust You

Tell me you’ve never encountered at least one of these situations in your career.

You don’t trust your boss, or your boss doesn’t trust you.

When there is a lack of trust between you and your boss, or vice versa, it can have significant implications for you, your boss, and the overall dynamics of your workplace. Trust is a fundamental building block for a healthy work environment, and its absence can lead to a range of negative consequences that can affect many people and your company’s bottom-line results.

We can’t accomplish great things if we fail to get along with leadership or give leadership the impression that we don’t care about our job or what it’s attempting to accomplish. Let’s look at both sides of the argument and explore what can happen when an employee doesn’t trust their boss or when the boss doesn’t trust the employee:

When an Employee Doesn’t Trust Their Boss:

  1. Reduced Engagement: You back away, spending as much time as possible avoiding the boss and often working in isolation. You carefully watch the behaviors of colleagues and outsiders to determine what it is they do to gain acceptance.
  2. Low Morale: You start thinking and believing your career is over. You don’t know whether it’s best to quit or struggle on through until you can find something better. You become skeptical of everything, and your work output begins to be impacted.
  3. Limited Collaboration: Time with the boss is limited to mandatory group meetings or when they ask for time with you. You are anxious, worried, and uncomfortable in advance of either. You wonder if you’re going to be reprimanded or let go.
  4. Stress and Anxiety: Constant mistrust increases stress and anxiety, affecting mental and emotional well-being. You begin to share more with your co-workers, dragging them into your misery to get some moral support.
  5. Decreased Job Satisfaction: Lethargy sets in, and you become more dissatisfied with your job, leading to reduced performance, a lack of commitment to the organization, and loyalty to the boss.
  6. Resistance to Feedback: Feedback from an untrusted boss will always be taken with suspicion, hindering your thought process and making you wonder if you’re being supported or set up.
  7. Reduced Productivity: When trust is lacking, your focus shifts toward self-preservation and less on your projects and tasks, which leads to decreased productivity and inconsistent performance.

When the Boss Doesn’t Trust the Employee:

  1. Micro-Management: A lack of trust can result in the boss micromanaging the employee’s tasks, stifling autonomy and causing frustration. Documenting your progress and always having a third party in the room to witness events can’t be far behind.
  2. Limited Autonomy: If the boss doesn’t trust your judgment, they may withhold decision-making responsibilities or override decisions you’ve already made. This will limit your growth and development while also communicating back to you leadership’s level of distrust.
  3. Questioning Your Motivation: A lack of trust can also result in constant questioning or doubting the quality of your work. Your manager or leader may no longer inspire you, forcing you into a demotivated state.
  4. Communication Breakdowns: Open communication subsides, making it difficult for you or the boss to exchange ideas, feedback, and information effectively. This barrier will likely be held up continually and sorely felt.
  5. Missed Opportunities: When your boss doesn’t trust you, you can miss out on contributions and innovative ideas you would typically make. Hoarding ideas and not sharing critical and timely information can drive an even bigger wedge between you.
  6. Negative Perception: Most people are astute enough to sense when they are not trusted, which can damage your self-esteem and the perceived value you carry within the organization. Like a virus, this can quickly spread to co-workers and other managers.
  7. Workplace Conflict: A lack of trust can lead to conflicts and misunderstandings as everything becomes a minor skirmish, as you interpret actions and statements negatively.
  8. Underutilization of Skills: When the boss no longer trusts your abilities, they are unlikely to assign or give you tasks that align with your strengths and skills. This is disruptive and takes you farther away from what you enjoy most.

In both scenarios, we risk a toxic workplace, hindering other team members and stopping progress toward achieving organizational goals.

Understanding The Solution

Now that we’ve explored all the adverse outcomes likely to ensue from broken trust, how do we solve it? What can we do to address these challenges and make our efforts to rebuild trust a priority?

Open Communication: This starts with one party reaching out to the other and encouraging open and honest conversations to address any concerns or misunderstandings. The first step is to break the ice that has “built up” due to the untrusting relationship.

Clear Expectations: Committing to increased clarity within actions and all communications will also begin to solve any past issues. Setting clear expectations, defining roles, and collaborating on responsibilities will all go a long way in avoiding ambiguity.

Consistent Feedback: Agreeing to meet regularly to share and talk about performance will provide the forum for substantive feedback. Feedback should be seen as a gift and accepted without prejudice. Each party can decide whether or not they should or need to apply it.

Lead by Example: Leaders should reflect on how they are exhibiting trustworthiness and fairness in their behaviors. Leaders must set the tone for their team that communicates values and what should or shouldn’t be tolerated.

Recognition and Appreciation: An organization’s lack of celebration and recognition of its people quickly sews mistrust. Recognizing and appreciating the efforts of the people who help you succeed reinforces your decision to work for that organization. We can’t do this enough.

Professional Development: People leave organizations that fail to invest in their ongoing growth and development. Enhancing a team member’s skills and abilities drives confidence and communicates that they have a place in the organization’s future.

Transparency: You may have noticed that a lack of transparency harms you and your boss. We must share information and decisions openly and consistently to create a culture of trust.

Conflict Resolution: When we address conflicts promptly and fairly, it almost always prevents them from escalating into more significant issues. When we fail to address issues at their outset, they can grow out of proportion and become hard to recover from.

Team-building Activities: Like recognition and appreciation, teamwork and engagement are other neglected actions. Working together and experiencing wins and losses as a team builds a bond between your people. It fosters an enhanced level of camaraderie and collaboration that has a significant return on investment for leaders and the organization.

With Time Trust is Fixable

Rebuilding trust in any relationship takes time and effort. Still, the positive impact on individual well-being and organizational success is well worth it.  We will always have to work with situations where our ability to execute is lacking, as trust can never be 100% guaranteed. The good news is that we can always fix a lack of trust between employees and employers.

We can accomplish many great things with open and honest communication, consistent actions, fairness in treatment, and a workplace environment where employees feel valued and empowered.

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