Becoming a Trusted Employer

Beware of Common Barriers to Trust Between Employers and Their Employees

Trust between an employer and their employees is more complex than trust between any two individuals. The trust an employer receives from their employees involves 3 dimensions (Galford & Drapeau, 2003): strategic trust, or employees’ trust in the employer’s technical and strategic competencies, personal trust, or employees’ trust in the way an employer shapes and handles interpersonal relationships, and organizational trust, or employees' trust in the organization’s competence as a whole.

 However, there are also many “enemies” to trust, or things that can undermine an employee’s trust at any dimension (Galford & Drapeau, 2003).  In this post, we will specifically explore enemies to personal trust, which may be related to a manager’s consistency, communication, or willingness to deal with questions or disagreements. To be able to overcome distrust, one should first identify any active enemies that they are not aware of. Here we provide some common barriers to personal trust and then provide suggestions to overcome them.

 The first barrier to employees placing personal trust in an employer regards inconsistent messages.  An employer can improve communication and facilitate trust in the following ways:

  • Articulate messages aloud in the mirror or to a trusted advisor before announcing them to the organization at large. This ensures your messages are clear and consistent.
  • Be honest in transferring messages; avoid translating them to reflect what you or your employees want to hear


The second obstacle a manager may face refers to inconsistent standards. It is important to treat all employees fairly:

  • Ensure rules and standards are consistent for all employees
  • Don't make exceptions for some employees and not for others

The third problem a manager may face occurs from offering unreasonable benevolence and inaccurate feedback. Give your employees the feedback they truly deserve, whether it's a constructive criticism or a pat on the back. Otherwise this may lead to employees discounting your values and your trustworthiness:

  • Do not accommodate technical incompetency or misbehavior from any of your employees
  • Feedback should be accurate, consistent, and proportional to the competencies and behaviors of the employees

 Fourth, it is important for you as the manager to trust your employees (Sherman & Cohen, 2006):

  • Prevent unwanted outcomes, such as defensiveness, by believing in your employees' abilities and skills
  • By sincerely showing that you trust them, they will place more trust in you in return

 Finally, it is encouraged to minimize poor or delayed communication within the organization.  Employees can feel trivial problems arise in the workplace.  Even a small gap between the onset of the issue and the time it takes for you to communicate with them may lead to rumors and misinterpretation of the situation, ultimately resulting in employees decreasing their trust in you:

  •  Never ignore employees' questions, disagreements, or any other organization-related issues
  • Communicate problems in order to discuss and attempt to resolve them

These tips are important to consider when attempting to build trust between yourself and your employees. By reducing certain “enemies,” or barriers to trust, interpersonal trust may blossom. After all, trust does not always come naturally—it is the manager's duty to build and nurture it.


Galford, R. M., Drapeau, A. S. (2003). The Enemies of Trust: adapted from “The Trusted Leader” book. Harvard Business Review: free press.

Sherman, D. K. & Cohen, G. L. (2006). The Psychology of self-defense: self-affirmation theory. Advance In Experimental Social Psychology. Vol. 38. 183-241.