How Organizations Destroy Trust With Their Employees

These Top 5 Trust Busters Will Destroy the Trust You Want to Build at Work

Trust Is Delicate and Easily Broken
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Trust is the foundation of all positive relationships you seek to create in your organization. Trust is one of the strongest bonds that can exist between people and customers; trust is also one of the most fragile aspects of relationships.

You can spend years building trust between your employees, your managers, and your senior leaders only to have it slip away when, usually, actions by your senior team, violate the existing environment of trust in the eyes of your employees.

What Happens When Trust Is Destroyed?

For example, in a small manufacturing company, the senior team failed to keep employees informed about the financial troubles the company was experiencing. So, when the layoff of 21 employees was announced in a meeting as well as the elimination of the quality department, the employees were shocked.

This shock translated into a serious lack of trust. The remaining employees waited for the next shoe to drop, mourned the loss of their coworkers, and many started to job search quietly. Several years passed before the senior team was able to re-engage their employees and they lost several important staff members during that time.

Once you destroy trust, break the bond of trust, trust is the most difficult facet of your culture to rebuild. You can build a culture of trust in your organization if you steer clear of actions that destroy trust.

Avoid these trustbusters to build a trust culture.

What Is Trust?

Dr. Duane C. Tway, Jr., in his dissertation, defined three constructs of trust. He calls trust a construct because it is constructed of these three components: He says that trust is the “state of readiness for unguarded interaction with someone or something.” Thinking about trust as made up of the interaction and existence of these three components makes the concept of trust easier to understand.

The amount of trust you experience is dependent upon the degree to which you can respond affirmatively to experiencing each of these three components of trust:

  • The capacity for trusting means that your total life experiences have developed your current capacity and willingness to risk trusting others. You believe in trust. You have experienced trust and believe that trust is possible.
  • The perception of competence is made up of your perception of your ability and the ability of others with whom you work to perform competently at whatever is needed in your current situation.
  • The perception of intentions, as defined by Tway, is your perception that the actions, words, direction, mission, or decisions are motivated by mutually-serving rather than self-serving motives.

Trust is dependent on the interaction of and your experience of these three components. Trust is tough to maintain and easy to destroy.

5 Ways to Destroy Trust

For trust to exist in an organization, a certain amount of transparency must pervade the intentions, direction, actions, communication, feedback, and problem-solving of particularly, senior leaders and managers, but also of all employees. Consequently, these are ways in which people destroy trust.

1. Employees tell lies of commission: They fail to tell the truth, often with the intention to deceive or confuse people. This has a powerful impact on a whole organization when the lie is perceived to come from leaders, but even coworker relationships are destroyed by lies of commission. A lie is a lie is a lie.

If it's not the whole truth, if it requires preparation and wordsmithing, if you need to remember the details to ensure that you don't change your story in the retelling, you are probably telling a lie. Or, at the very least, part of your story is a lie. People who are untrustworthy derail their careers. Can you imagine the impact of lies in an organization when the liar is a senior manager?

2. Employees tell lies by omission: A lie of omission is a deliberate attempt to deceive another person by omitting portions of the truth. Lies of omission are particularly egregious as they give people false impressions and attempt to influence behavior by omitting important details.

Once again, the more powerful the perpetrator of the lie in the organization, the more significantly, trust is affected. But, an individual can derail their career by using this deception ploy, when caught.

3. Fail to walk the talk: No matter the work program, cultural expectation, management style, or change initiative, you will destroy trust if you fail to demonstrate the quality or behavioral expectation if you fail to walk the talk. Words are easy; it is the behavior that demonstrates your expectations in action that helps employees trust you.

You can’t, for example, state that participative management and employee empowerment are the desired form of leadership in your organization unless you demonstrate these expectations in your everyday actions. Customer service is a joke if a complaining customer is labeled “wrong” or "a jerk.”

4. Fail to do what you say you are going to do: Few employees expect that every statement, goal and/or projection that you make will come true. Sales will be up 10 percent. No layoffs are anticipated. We will hire ten new employees this quarter. They are all predictions, but when you set an actual expectation with an employee, you need to come through as promised.

For example, working at the reception desk alone is a temporary fix until we fill the open position with a second receptionist. Your solo assignment will be complete by the end of the first quarter.

If you make a statement, commitment, or projection, employees expect what you said to happen. You destroy trust if the end result never occurs. You can avoid destroying trust by communicating honestly and frequently about:

Honest communication is key to building employee and coworker trust.

5. Make random, haphazard, unexpected changes for no apparent reason: Keeping employees off-balance may sound like an effective approach to creating agility in your organization. But, random change produces the opposite effect.

People get used to their comfortable way of doing things. They get used to the mood the boss characteristically exhibits when she arrives at the office. They expect no consequences when deadlines are missed—because there have never been any in the past.

Any change must be communicated with the rationale behind the change made clear. A starting date for implementation and participation from employees whose jobs are affected by the change will keep you from destroying trust.

A sincere and thoughtful demonstration that the change is well-thought-out and not arbitrary will help employees trust you. An explanation for a change of mood or a different approach goes a long way to prevent the destruction of trust.

More About How to Destroy Trust

These are five of the top issues that destroy trust between employees and in organizations. If you can avoid these five trustbusters, you will have gone a long way toward ensuring that trust is building in your organization.

The Bottom Line

Lies of commission, lies of omission, failure to walk the talk, failure to do what you say you will do, and subjecting employees to random, haphazard, unexpected change destroy trust. Walk on the better path. Build, don’t destroy trust in your organization.