by Dr. Neeta Pant

Distrust at Workplace

“A team is not a group of people who work together.

A team is a group of people who trust each other.”

~ Simon Sinek

Have you ever felt that you have not been trusted enough in the workplace?  Or you can’t trust a fellow worker or leadership?  How does that impact you?  Does distrust affect the workplace culture? Let us find out –

Trust is an integral part of human relations at workplace too.  When employees trust their managers, their organisations and their teammates, they are much more likely to be engaged and be more passionate and committed about their work.  A distrusting work environment affects employees and organisation both equally.  Organizations struggling with distrust fail to thrive unless they correct the problem.

Those who get the trust game right, champion humanity, compassion, empathy and authenticity to build strong, trusting workspaces which improve employee engagement, morals, retention and business success.  Without trust, it’s next to impossible to:

  • Create a meaningful & engaging employee experience
  • Retain top talent & collaborative environment
  • Maintain or build your brand & goodwill
  • Business Growth and desired results


WHAT IS TRUST?  Trust at workplace means –

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  1. Sense of security, reliability and confidence in our dealings
  2. Sense of prediction that someone will act in specific ways and be dependable or not
  3. Sense of self-credibility that has been earned over time

Ironically, we are expected to develop trust as we grow up, we are never taught explicitly how to earn or build trust in relations.  Trust can be categorised into two broad categories –

1.     Practical trust –  more traditional & fundamental type of trust which can be earned by being a persistent, reliable and dependable employee.  By consistently meeting commitments, deadlines, punctuality, being trustworthy, showing competence can win trust of others.  People must have the confidence that what is said, will be delivered. 

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  • Emotional Trust – Emotional trust gets build when one goes above and beyond what is expected out of them.    People must trust that you’re on their side, have faith you’ll treat them kindly and respectfully, will not judge them.   They must be comfortable sharing their honest thoughts, feelings, and ideas for them to have emotional trust in you which gets build with emotional intelligence.

Why does TRUST in the workplace matter?

Workplace culture of honesty, psychological safety, and mutual respect is ascertained by trust. Trust helps employees to feel secure in their job, take pride in their workplace.   Employees then are willing to extend themselves which in turn reduces turnover.  Trust builds employee engagement, which leads to quality work and better results.  Trust fosters a sense of belonging and connect too.

Employees perform bare minimum needed to get work done, are hesitant to share information, exhibit mediocre work performance, experience a lack of motivation and participation in company events/initiatives in a climate of distrust. They feel micromanaged and begin to resent input from their managers.  If they don’t trust their managers, it often results in disrespect and an unwillingness to respond to them.  Low morale, decline in productivity and employee dis-satisfaction is bound to happen if trust is put at the back burner. 

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Signs of Distrust –  Below signs suggests that distrust is brewing at workplace –

  1. Stressed, Anxious Employees  –    is one of the first warning signs of a trust issue. When employees are stressed, their morale and job performance suffer.  Employees should feel valued and safe.
  • Low Engagement –  stems from distrust which leads to low employee engagement.  If employees distrust their leadership or team,  they lose motivation and fear sharing their ideas.  Employees must feel motivated and engaged, at all times, to perform their best.
  • Restricted Contribution  –  Distrust impedes creative ideas, honest feedback, and constructive criticism.  Without trust, employees  are less likely to share, open up and cooperate.  Employees must feel that they can be honest while sharing their ideas or voicing their concerns, without fearing judgement, discrimination, or retribution.   

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  • Low Collaboration –  Collaboration can’t be expected if distrust exists in an organisation.  Fearing that their ideas will be ridiculed or rejected, or that someone else will take credit for their ideas, employees will refrain from collaboration.   
  • High Attrition –  Employees are not invested completely if they don’t trust their managers or their co-workers.  They may also feel undervalued and unappreciated. High attrition attracts high recruitment costs. 
  • Absence Of Constructive Feedback –  Employees need to feel trusted to give genuine and constructive criticism, if that relationship is established and communication becomes open, trust becomes natural for both, employees and leadership.

Causes Of Lack Of Trust In The Workplace –   A lack of trust filters through the organization and starts at the top.  Examples of management issues that create trust problems –

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  1. INFORMATION –  Sharing of information only with key members  rather than with entire team is generally the cause of distrust.  Many a times, the information is shared on a ‘need-to-know’ basis. Leaders forget that important information has a way of leaking out giving way to rumours.
  • FAVOURITISM –  Favouring one above the rest of the team can be fatal.  Perception of favouritism too plays a pivotal role.   Leaders simply, out of comfort, turn to one person more frequently and can be perceived as favouring.  This can lead to distrust in the team.
  • ALIGNMENT –  Lack of alignment between responsibility and authority adds to distrust.  If job profiles or responsibilities are unclear, it can cause confusion and mistrust.   Matching authority should be provided, competency need to be ensured, when a team member is given the responsibility for a task.
  • CREATING SILOS  –  This destroys teamwork and collaboration by creating a ME Vs. THEM mentality and leads to people not understanding and supporting each other within the organization. 
  • MICROMANAGMENT –  breeds distrust, which, in turn, causes employees not to trust them and there is a ripple effect as well.  It restrains innovation, growth, collaboration, camaraderie and creativity.   Employees should feel they have the freedom to make their own decisions even at the cost of making mistakes which is a learning.

Let us look at how trust flows in the workplace.  There are 3 directions of trust that workplaces need to have

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  1.  The Team must trust the leader –  Team members who don’t trust their leaders are likely working the bare minimum and not planning to stay on for long. They’re probably not innovating and contributing because they don’t believe what leadership tells them. 
  2. The leader must trust the team – If leaders don’t trust the team, they end up micromanaging, withholding information, working in silos or with the dependable few.   This can create a vicious cycle, as your team may respond by pulling back even further.  The ability to delegate holds both you and others accountable and reflects a strong element of trust.
  3. The team members must trust each other –  If the team members don’t trust each other, they may hold onto key information, and by so doing, they can interfere with others’ work and block the organization from moving forward.  Team members who aren’t comfortable sharing information are working at cross-purposes. 

Key Advantages Of Building Trust At Workplace –

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  1. Higher Retention –  Positive work environment benefits include enhanced retention and recruitment of a diverse talent pool.
  • Stronger Collaborative Teamwork – Teams flourish and prosper in a positive work environment because they value cooperation over competition. Whereas teams in a toxic work environment may suffer from rivalry, unnecessary competition, backstabbing & negativity. 
  • Increased Productivity –  Employees are likely to push themselves and rise to the challenge if they feel that their manager trusts them to accomplish a task so that they don’t let their superior – or themselves – down.
  • Increased Creativity and Innovation –Employees in a positive workplace like to brainstorm, experiment, try new approaches and disrupt the monotony.  Negative work environments stifle creativity and originality.
  • Improved Communication – In a trusting climate, employees feel it’s safe to ask questions and share candid information about work progress.   They’re more apt to point out inefficiencies and offer possible solutions when they feel the communication doors open. Rumours and misinformation are less of a problem too.
  • Health and Well-being –  Mental and Physical health of an employee  depends upon the positive & trusting relationships with supervisors and colleagues.  In trusting climate one suffers fewer work-related health problems and performance blocks.


7)    Improved Employee Satisfaction –  High-trust environment brings work satisfaction as employees feel confident that their organization has their best interests in mind, and vice versa.

Admitting there is a problem is half the battle won. Once recognized, there are opportunities to create mutual trust, one can begin the work of building it.

How to cultivate trust in the organisation

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Trust is a sensitive subject, and trust issues can be difficult to identify, acknowledge and solve.  However, if people are to flourish and organisations are to prosper, a safe environment needs to be created where people can develop interpersonal trust with each another. 

Strategies For Building Trust In The Workplace

  1. Listen Attentively –  Acknowledge employees as unique individuals who have their own ideas and viewpoints.  Allow them freedom to speak their mind, and express genuine interest in them.  Be receptive to both positive and negative feedback. Demonstrate that feedback is welcome whether your agree with it or not.   Encourage them to elaborate their thoughts so that a full understanding of what is being communicated is obtained.     
  2. Express Appreciation –  Everyday appreciation goes a long way and builds an emotional security with employees.  One may show appreciation on a recognition platform, by sending ‘thank you’ messages, verbal praise, or a simple pat on the back. Reinforcement of behaviours that are desired will help build a solid relationship based on mutual respect and trust.
  3. Empowerment –  Encouraging professional development and autonomy is a way to empower.  Typical meetings that they are not supposed to be in, invite them for the same, they’ll remember the trust expressed in them, and their unique perspective might benefit the organisation.  Provide them additional responsibilities that they would enjoy. 

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  • Stop micromanaging –  Most employees don’t want to be looked over their shoulders. They want to feel trusted enough to be able to work with minimal supervision.  Assure them that help, if needed, is just a call away.  This help them to feel supportive without hovering & undue pressure on them.
  • Focus On Nonverbal Communication –  Positive body language paired with empathy, patience, and problem solving attitude create a welcoming and approachable environment for employees.  When communicating, always be genuine and authentic. More is the comfort zone for them, more is the trust in leadership.
  • Create Inclusive Culture –  Organisation culture should reflect qualities like appreciation, resilience, and teamwork and is a key part of establishing trust in your organization.   Build an inclusive culture — one that accepts and values the strengths of all employees.
  • Be Honest, Transparent –  Employees won’t trust leadership if they are caught by surprise about major changes in the workplace.  Engage them,  express that leadership is not there to talk at them but to talk with them.  Don’t shy away from being the bearer of bad news, have the integrity to tell the truth.  Transparency brings in honest conversations, collaboration and respect. It helps take off mysteries and doubts that creates mistrust.
  • Make Personal Connection – Get to know your people and allow them to know youCreate opportunities that makes them believe leadership too is one of them.  Let them know that even if you are managing them, you are in togetherness.
  • Encourage, Not Command – No organisation succeed in the long run by telling employees what to do.  One needs to motivate them to do it.   When employees feel aligned with the goals of the organisation, they’ll work harder, smarter & creatively.  Delegate tasks and grant as much autonomy as possible, with clear expectations.  You will get trust in return of trust.
  • Take Blame and Give Credit– Hogging all the limelight and dishing out criticism is a sure shot way to lose trust at workplace.  Giving credits to the team reinforces the sense that there are shared goals rather than a boss’s personal agenda.  

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  1. Model the behavior you seek –  A leader’s behaviour influences employee’s  action and the potential to drive results.  Reinforce your points as a leader by appropriate examples and action points.   An appreciative culture can be set when a leader becomes the role model and follow what is preached.
  2. Action On Suggestions – Solicit feedback, share an appreciation for their thoughts.  Take actions on the feedback.  Help them understand why some of their thought process is not being implemented conversely.

When it comes to driving trust at workplace, leadership cannot take their foot off the pedal.  Trust empowers.  Mistakes will happen but having faith that the team will find a solution too is crucial.    Employees respond to trust by moving mountains for the leadership and become more engaged in the business.

Trust is a critical factor in workplace. Empowering employees through belief & trust in their abilities facilitates meaningful change. Trust takes a lot of hard work to earn and very little effort to lose. Once lost, trust can be nearly impossible to get back. Gaining trust is a two way street, you must earn it, by giving it.   Building reciprocal trusting relationships is how workplaces thrive.

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“Teamwork begins by building trust. 

And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for vulnerability.”

~ Patrick Lencioni

Text Box: Author – Dr. Neeta Pant
PhD in Clinical Psychology
Honorary PhD in Social Work
Senior HR Professional,
Clinical Psychologist
Executive Life Coach,
POSH & POCSO Trainer

By Dr Neeta Pant

Bizemag Media is a reputed name and fast growing MarTech Broadcast Media Firm with success stories in USA, Canada, Europe, Africa & India