4 Signs of Employee Trust Issues

Any relationship, whether it’s between friends, family members, significant others, or business partners, is rooted in trust. Trust lets people live, work, and have fun together while feeling safe. When you trust another person, you feel secure physically and emotionally around them. 

Trust can be difficult to define in absolute terms, but it’s easy to know when trust is lost or absent. When you don’t trust another person, you don’t have confidence in their actions or words. Your guard is up. You don’t want to engage with that person anymore.

How can you work around or with someone you don’t trust? Trust issues in the workplace can be debilitating. The sooner you can spot the signs of employee trust issues, the sooner you can nip them in the bud.

Lack of honesty and transparency

Trust and honesty go hand-in-hand. When an employee isn’t honest with others, it becomes impossible to trust that person. Maybe they lie when they make a mistake or steal credit for others’ work. Those are clear signs of an untrustworthy coworker.

Only hearing good news seems like a positive thing on the surface, but it may also be due to lack of honesty. If all you hear from management, team members, or coworkers is that everything is going well, there may be a trust issue. Employees who aren’t afraid of conflict or bad news trust each other enough to be vulnerable and open.

Similarly, if management isn’t honest about important information, that can cause distrust between them and other employees. Managers who meet in secret, withhold new company developments, and let rumors fly are diminishing the level of trust in the organization. Being honest and open throughout the entire company is vital to building trust.

Practice transparency and honesty. Make sure everyone is kept up-to-date on important company announcements. Have regular team meetings and all-hands meetings. If coworkers seem to have problems with specific employees being dishonest, get to the bottom of it right away.

Gossip abounds

Think about the time you spent in high school. Every situation seemed life-or-death; every action or nonaction was of huge importance. Friendships ended and restarted at the drop of a hat. Sure, it’s part of growing up as a teenager, but one thing that likely made it worse was gossip.

When this high school attitude enters the workplace, it can breed distrust, not to mention tension and stress. A little office gossip is normal in every organization, but if certain employees spend a lot of time gossiping about their coworkers, they can hurt feelings as well as reputations.

Sometimes gossip happens when employees don’t have a good outlet for talking about their concerns. Instead of talking to the employee in question or a supervisor to solve a problem, employees will vent to each other. As an HR rep, make sure employees know their options for resolving conflict so they don’t have to resort to gossip. If you’re around a gossipy group, try saying something like “I’m not really comfortable talking about that person when they’re not here” to shut it down.

Unbalanced discussions during meetings

Have you ever sat in on a meeting where only a few people out of a group had something to say? Out of a group of six coworkers and a supervisor, for example, maybe one coworker and the supervisor were the only ones participating in the discussion. Trust may be the culprit.

If employees don’t participate in discussions, that may be due to lack of confidence in themselves, or distrust of others. They may not trust that their ideas will be heard or valued. And that’s a waste of talent.

If you notice this happening in meetings, try changing up how you run meetings to encourage engagement. Look at your attendee list and make sure everyone invited actually needs to attend. Come up with an agenda beforehand so attendees can be prepared. Let them know you’d like input from each person ahead of time, and remind them that each person’s honest opinion is appreciated.

People are unwilling to work together

Here’s another high school attitude that might come from distrust. Are your employees avoiding working with each other or under certain leadership? If they’re forced to work together anyway, are they disengaged?

People who trust each other are willing to help and ask for help when necessary. A person who is trusted is reliable and dependable. You can count on someone you trust to keep their word and follow through on their commitments. When you have employees who are unreliable, flaky, or seen as incompetent, no one will want to work with them. That can make collaboration difficult and harm your team’s productivity.

You may want to call a meeting to address this issue if you can. Acknowledge that stress, distrust, and tension within the team are a concern. Encourage your employees to talk to their HR rep or supervisor if they have frustrations or certain needs that aren’t being met. There may be specific employees who are the main problem.

How to fix employee trust issues

One of the best ways you can build trust in the workplace is to lead by example. You can’t expect others to act the way you want without acting that way yourself. Ensure that you and management are setting the bar for the rest of employees.

Share pertinent information with employees as soon as possible. Be transparent and honest about what you can, including “bad news.” Don’t hide information thinking that you’ll protect employees. They’ll only feel that you don’t trust them enough to handle it.

Don’t gossip! If you hear employees talking about their coworkers, shut it down. Don’t allow rumors to be spread. Remember that if an employee gossips about another person to you, they’ve likely gossiped about you to someone else.

Encourage collaboration and participation within teams. Make sure every employee knows that their input is appreciated and that their ideas are important. Disengagement and unwillingness to work together can stem from distrust and lack of confidence.

Finally, ask for employee feedback. Embrace it; don’t argue or try to defend yourself when you are given feedback. Then, take action on that feedback. Employees will begin to trust each other more, and in turn, feel more trusted by others.