HR professionals work together to solve a problem

CSD Pool HR Series: The Importance of Trust in Supervisors

Trust and Supervisors

If you’re a supervisor, your employees’ trust in you is everything. Without it, your knowledge of your organization and your ability to improve it will be severely diminished. But why is that, exactly? And if it’s so important, how can supervisors build trust?

Recently, we discussed the role of meetings in your workplace. For this article, we’ll discuss why trust is so important, why it can be so hard to get, what are some different kinds of trust, and how you can work towards earning (or re-earning) the trust of your employees.

Why Bother with Trust?

A study published in The Journal of Psychology in 2016 found that employees who trusted their supervisor felt more psychologically safe. This perceived safety made employees feel “obligated to pay back to their organization” and increased their levels of job engagement.

Another study done in 2023 and published in Psychological Reports showed that employee trust in supervisors was “positively related to employee creativity.” The professional consensus is clear: if you want employees who work hard and feel comfortable enough at work to think outside of the box, it’s important for them to trust you.

Unfortunately, following a poll done by Gallup indicating that only 23% of employees currently say they strongly trust their leadership, it’s also important to examine the consequences of a lack of trust. They note that employees who do not trust their leadership are less likely to be engaged in their work and more likely to be seeking a new job. In order to keep your employees happy, or even just to keep them at all, trust is essential.

The Bad News

Although it helps to understand why trust is vital to the relationship between supervisors and employees, this doesn’t make earning it any easier. There are a few important reasons to consider why this may be the case.

First, it’s important to recognize that liking a supervisor and trusting them are two different things. It’s entirely possible to like your supervisor as a person and have no trust in them at all. No amount of employee pizza parties or gift cards is going to make them trust you. Maybe it’ll make them like and appreciate you (both of which are obviously good for the working relationship), but trust relies on a separate set of skills and actions.

Second, all of your employees are individuals with different experiences with trust. No single piece of advice about earning trust is going to work for everyone. Some of them will be inclined to trust you right from the start, which is wonderful! Others will have been burned by supervisors in the past and will need you to work harder to earn their trust.

Finally, after all of the time and effort you put into earning the trust of your employees, one slip-up or lapse in judgment could result in you losing it all in an instant and needing to start from square one. The process of earning and keeping trust is challenging. However, if you want your workplace to be the best it can be, it’s a challenge that you must undertake.

Types of Trust

Once you’ve decided that you’re willing to do the work it takes to earn the trust of your employees, where do you even start? “Trust” is such a broad term that it makes near impossible to understand what you can do to earn it. In order to find out how to build trust with your team, you must first break “trust” down into manageable parts. Luckily, quite a bit of research has been done into this topic already.

In 2009, the Institute of Leadership and Management began developing their own model, The Seven Dimensions of Trust. These are consistency, integrity, openness, ability, understanding, fairness, and accessibility. To sum it up, employees trust supervisors who behave predictably, make fair decisions, are open to the thoughts and ideas of others, do their job well, understand what their employees are responsible for, show concern for the welfare of their employees and act to improve it, and make themselves available to their staff.

Though categorized differently by others, many of these key points are repeated by other sources in one form or another. Gallup reports that managers who are authentic and transparent with employees and competent at their own jobs create high-trust work environments. The Harvard Business Review also notes that employees trust managers who trust them in return, communicate openly and honestly, treat mistakes as learning opportunities, and invest in employee development.

What Can You Do?

It’s all well and good to know how important trust is and be able to break it down into smaller parts, but how can this information actually be used to help your employees trust you? Based on the data, there are a few simple and concrete actions that should help you get started.

Communicate Clearly and Honestly

Employees will not trust a supervisor they feel isn’t being honest with them. Whether this is because they are outright being lied to or there is some misunderstanding along the way, it still has the potential to damage trust.

Make sure you are communicating with everyone who needs to hear the information you’re delivering. Explain it to your employees in a simple and understandable way and leave room for them to ask clarifying questions. There may not be questions in the moment, but if they come up later on be sure to give the same answer to all employees and make an effort to share that answer with those who didn’t ask if the information is important enough. If you don’t know something, be honest about it and look for the answer to give them later.

Communication is a two-way street, so make sure your employees have an easy way to get in contact with you. This can be accomplished through open office hours, emails, or phone calls so long as they know what you prefer and which method you are most likely to respond to.

Be Consistent in Your Behavior

Don’t leave your employees wondering if their next encounter with you will end with a pat on the back or a screaming match. Pay attention to your behavior towards your employees and strive for consistently positive interactions with them. That’s not to say you have to put on an act if you’re upset! Life happens, and your employees know this as much as anyone. Just be sure to explain it to them (again, honest communication to the rescue) and what they can expect from you in the meantime.

There are other ways to practice consistency at work too: set office hours for yourself, let your employees know what they are, and stick to them. This will reassure them that you are present at your workspace (a sign of competence) and ensure that they always know when they can contact you.

Get to Know Your Employees

You don’t have to be privy to every detail of your employees’ personal lives; however, knowing the basics of who your employees are and what they do can be helpful in building trust. At the very least, you should know their name and what their role is at the workplace. Knowing their name signals that you recognize them as an individual while forgetting it frequently is just disrespectful. Knowing what they do for work allows you to assign them appropriate tasks, identify areas in which they may want to grow, and avoid mistaking their role for someone else’s (potentially damaging their perception of how competent you are at managing them).

If you want to go a step further, ask about their hobbies outside of work. This will not only help you get to know them, but will let them know that you are genuinely interested in who they are as a person.

Listen to Your Employees and be Open to Feedback

While supervisors understand in broad terms how their organization works, employees have a specific understanding of what goes on in their roles. If they come to you with an idea for a new process or something they think should change, listen to them. If the idea is a good one, implement it! If it won’t work, make sure that they know you seriously considered their proposal and explain why you are not moving forward with it.

Your employees can also provide valuable feedback about how you’re doing as a supervisor. They understand what it’s like to be managed by you in a way that you never will and can often provide insight into habits of yours that help and hurt the organization. This can sometimes be difficult to hear, but an employee that gives you honest feedback–even if that feedback is about something you’re doing wrong–is a fantastic sign. It means that they trust you enough to tell you where you can improve, are engaged enough that they noticed to begin with, and are looking for ways to make the workplace a better environment for everyone.

Listening to and implementing suggestions from employees encourages them to come to you with more ideas in the future, promotes honesty on their end, and shows that you value their insight.

Making a Positive Change

In short, trust is a vital part of your organization. While it may be difficult to understand and even more difficult to build, the success of your organization, department, or individual team members’ performance stems from it. Like a captain helming their ship, the responsibility of managing a functional crew falls on you.

A task that large is often difficult for one person to handle on their own, which is why the CSD Pool is here to help make your team the best it can be. Members have access to ten hours of free human resources consulting per year with CPS HR and discounted rates once that time has been used up. Additionally, the CSD Pool’s HR Helpline site hosts webinars, sample HR policies, best practice advice, and more entirely for free. To learn more about these programs and get the guidance you need to build a trusting and effective workplace, visit our human resources website or check out our other human resources articles.

The owner of this website has made a commitment to accessibility and inclusion, please report any problems that you encounter using the contact form on this website. This site uses the WP ADA Compliance Check plugin to enhance accessibility.