Restoring Trust in the Workplace: What managers can do to restore mutual trust that lasts for the long haul

What to know & do; doing the right thing; the trouble assessment; inviting your employees to speak truth

Productivity cratered many months ago. When you ask employees “how’s it going,” you hear “it’s going.” New resignation letters land on your desk every several weeks. Some employees leave before completing their two weeks’ notice.

You can’t avoid the truth. You need a turnaround plan, fast, before you lose more employees.

Here’s what to know and do.

Don’t blame your employees. Sure, some of them may need to go because they’ve become problems or contributed to creating a toxic culture. The major responsibility, however, lies with you and your organization’s other leaders. Your own inaction and behaviors fanned toxic fumes. Leadership that wants to “right the ship” needs to get right themselves.

Do you talk a good story or do the right thing?

Ask yourself—When your employees voice concerns, do they fear you’ll shoot the messenger or believe you’ll act? Do you look the other way when supervisors or coworkers undermine or bully others? Do you ignore things you know aren’t right?  

Accountability starts with leaders and managers. Leaders need to walk their talk and model the ethics and behaviors they want to see. Employees won’t work hard for managers who don’t.

Managers that want employee to speak with honesty need to be open to hearing what employees say. Managers that want engaged employees need to actively engage with their teams.

The trouble assessment

Here’s where you start. Conduct a trouble assessment. Pull your management team together and ask:

  • How would we rate our employees’ morale on a scale of 0 to 10? What number value would employees give their morale if we asked them the same question?
  • What leads our employees to invest in our organization? What leads them to disengage or leave?
  • Do we model the behaviors we want others to follow?
  • Do we respect all employees, even those who don’t agree with us?
  • Are there supervisors and employees who bully or treat each other disrespectfully?
  • How do we make our employees feel valued?
  • Do we receive 100 percent value from our payroll dollars? If we had to establish a baseline for how fully utilized and productive our employees are, what number value would it be?
  • Are we solution-oriented or blame-focused? What would our employees say if asked?
  • What problems and flaws do we hesitate to talk about?
  • What do we have to change or improve, do more or less of, start or stop to be more effective and accountable in the future?

Invite your employees to speak truth

Pose similar questions to your employees.

You may find your employees won’t respond to a Survey Monkey or give feedback to your human resources team because they fear HR or IT will violate their confidentiality, resulting in retaliation and job loss. If so, you’ll need to use a trusted interviewer who promises confidentiality. If you do and the results you shock you, you’ll have learned what you need to address to turn your organization around.  

The bottom line

Is this process painful and occasionally costly? Yes, but not if you compare it to cost of not fixing problems. When your organization is dysfunctional, combative, defeatist or otherwise toxic, morale and productivity tank.

When leaders identify, admit, and fix problems their organization reaps the benefits in increased morale, retention rates, and productivity.

If you found this article useful, you’ll find additional strategies in Managing for Accountability: A Business Leader’s Toolbox, Business Experts Press,

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3 thoughts on “Restoring Trust in the Workplace: What managers can do to restore mutual trust that lasts for the long haul

  1. An old fashioned “suggestion box” located in the bathrooms where employees could actually feel their anonymity would be assured could be a venue of valuable input. The downside would obviously be bathroom humor and cruel personal attacks. Separating the wheat from the chaff to get honest feedback may prove invaluable.

  2. The important thing here is the same saying about making change and sticking to it: “Ya gotta wanna.” The employer really must be committed to listening to employees and to making changes if certain practices lead to mistrust, fear, resignation.

  3. The employer must want to and be willing to make change and to listen to hard truths in feedback–that’s the underlying assumption and message her, and good for you!

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