Why employees do not trust their managers?

ID-10067109A 2010 survey conducted by Harvard Business Review along with HEC School of Business on ‘Subordinate Trust’ showed that the majority of 700 respondents would trust a stranger more than they trust their manager!

This is not a surprise. Many of the experienced managers have told me that the most perplexing finding in an Employee Engagement survey is for the question – “I trust my manager”.  Most of the employees shy away from giving a “Strongly Agree” response and would oscillate between “Moderately Agree” or “Neutral”, with some courageous ones marking it as “Disagree”.

I have seen many managers pondering on how they can increase trust. Even candid conversation with employees on “how to increase trust??” rarely gives any explicit response.

Neuroscience studies suggest that our brain is probably wired never to trust a “Manager”!

Researcher Michael Marmot in his book The Status Syndrome, points out that a psychological experience of inequality can impact our relationship with people. Status is about relative importance, ‘pecking order’ and seniority.  This perceived view of inequality often comes on the way of employees trusting their managers.

So how can a manger build trust? A manager can build trust by eliminating any kind of threat. Here are five ways a manager can build trust –

  1. Ensure that you create a sense of equality  in your manner of speech, appearance, etiquettes and protocols
  2. Create a style that gives employees autonomy and control over the way they manage their work
  3. Provide a sense of authority by soliciting feedback and suggestions
  4. Reverse mentoring – create opportunities when employees can teach you something new
  5. Remove ambiguity – increase the level of transparency by clearly communicating your thoughts and plans

You can make these behavioral changes only if you truly believe in equality and are ready to give away the perks of authority and hierarchy.   Remember, human brain is smart to see if you are authentic and genuine. Your sincere effort will result in building a trustworthy relationship with your team.


Raj Karunakaran is a HR professional with more than 15 years of experience with organizations like Royal Philips,  Fidelity Investments, AstraZeneca Plc, Tech Mahindra. Raj is a certified Coach by Neuroleadership Group and he specializes in organizational development, leadership coaching and business partnering. He currently heads HR for Philips Healthcare sector at Philips Innovation Campus, Bangalore.

(Image courtesy : Freedigitalphotos.net)

1 Comment

  • Tina says:

    Trust is a very serious issue that affects in any relationship, more so in a manager- sub ordinate relationship.
    I can’t agree with you more when you said, human brain is smart to see if you are authentic and genuine.

    A team member can definitely make out if the manager is genuine or doing it for the high rating in “Engagement Survey”.
    I would tend to go with the characteristics of a Servant Leader for a great manager- team relationship. Here the power does not lie on the top of the pyramid. You will give equal importance to the needs of others, help them genuinely not only with work issues but also with life issues, develops leaders in the team, sacrifice their opportunity for the development of others.

    We can see these characters in history, who have been great leaders who were genuinely concerned about the well being of others.
    Chanakya wrote, in the 4th century BC, in his book Arthasasthra:
    “the king [leader] shall consider as good, not what pleases himself but what pleases his subjects [followers]” “the king [leader] is a paid servant and enjoys the resources of the state together with the people.”
    You can also see Servant Leaders in religious books. Jesus Christ is a great example of Servant Leader.

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