3 Behaviors That Erode Organizational Trust

September 24, 2018 in HR Best Practices



Considering the number of articles, books, and lectures that have emerged in recent years about how building positive workplace cultures and a better employee experience can have a positive impact on business goals, one might expect organizational trust to be on the rise. But a recent study by EY found that “less than half of global respondents have a ‘great deal of trust’ in their employer, boss or team/colleagues.”

With such a strong recent focus on employee experience, why is there still a disconnect between leaders’ and employees’ perceptions of trust? Improving trust takes more than implementing a new culture initiative. It requires building strong relationships in the workplace—a process that takes time.

Organizations can facilitate relationship building, but they need to watch out for behaviors that can sabotage those efforts. If unrecognized and unchecked, those behaviors can actually erode organizational trust rather than strengthen it.


Thanks to technological advances, business now moves faster than ever before. Regrettably, operational speed can have a negative impact on how employees perceive trust. Rob Seay, employee experience director at Bonfyre, points out that in their pursuit of a goal or deadline, leaders might delay other projects—and “the initiatives that get pushed aside or overlooked to achieve those goals are often things that have an impact on the employees’ view of trust . . . such as team-building activities, training courses, special projects, or team meetings.”

Working toward a shared company goal can build trust among coworkers. But cutting culture- and relationship building initiatives in order to meet that goal when resources are scarce may have the opposite effect: the organization not only undermines its efforts to build organizational trust but actually erodes it. Prioritizing speed to the point that employees feel they are juggling (and even dropping) basic tasks for an extended period of time can leave them feeling more like operational assets than valued team members.


In the EY survey, respondents identified “delivers on promises” as the most important factor that determines whether they have “a great deal of trust” in their organizations. When dealing with customers, many companies use the “under-promise and over-deliver” strategy to ensure higher success rates in hitting their deadline, quality, and budget goals. But they often fail to apply this practice to their own employees and, consequently, harm that relationship. Leadership coach Peter Stark points out that when a company offers only “vague promises about bonuses or promotions that never materialize, [its] employees feel deceived and begin to lose trust.”

In his book, Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring for Your People Like Family, Bob Chapman writes about how he discovered discrepancies between his leadership’s behavior and the principles of trust he wanted his company to embrace.

When he learned that manufacturing supplies were locked away in cages due to fear of employee theft, he decided to remove those locks and eliminate several other practices that were misaligned with his organization’s new principles and undermined trust with its employees.

Failure to follow up on solicited employee feedback is another common complaint, especially when it comes to employee engagement surveys. By ignoring the results of those surveys, companies may be doing more damage than they realize to their corporate culture. In order to improve organizational trust, organizations need to listen to and respect what their employees tell them.


Fifty-nine percent of respondents in the EY study cited whether an employer “communicates openly/transparently” as a factor in determining the level of their trust. The lack of clear and timely communication can undermine trust in any relationship.

Waiting too long to answer employees’ specific questions can allow false theories to brew in the workplace. To build trust with employees, Seay says, rather than stay silent, companies should instead share an incomplete message (without all the details) as a sign of support for transparency. This can be as simple as an announcement letting employees know the current state of affairs with a promise to provide more details as they become available.

When an organization commits to building organizational trust, it’s vital that its initiatives align with the words and actions of its managers and leaders. Trust doesn’t develop overnight or with a single new culture initiative; rather, it takes time to build workplace relationships that will lead to trust among coworkers.

By considering (and avoiding) these three problem areas, companies can develop effective trust-building initiatives.


In a less than trusting relationship with your current employer? The recruiting team at Kinsa Group will help connect you with new opportunity.

Editorial Note: Portions of this blog originally appeared in the September, 2018 edition of ABR Employment Services magazine, ABR HR Insights