I recently received an infographic from the US-based business-funding company The Business Backer with a list of 10 ways that bosses can get employees to trust them. As is usually the case with infographics, it's chockablock with anodynes like:

  • Set Clear Expectations. A lack of clarity around what is expected of your team members can lead to confusion which can erode trust.
  • Schedule Weekly Catch-Up Meetings. Regular meetings create a trusting environment for people to give and receive feedback.

Well, yeah, I guess.

I agree that bosses who complain that you didn't do "B" when they told you do to "A" certainly can't be trusted. But I'd say that "setting clear expectations" is less a matter of trust and more a matter of getting what you, as boss, want from your people.

As for "weekly catch-up meetings," they get counterproductive pretty quickly--and can start feeling like micromanagement--when they become a regular thing. Weekly "status update meetings" are huge time-wasters.

Now that I think of it, though, a "weekly catch-up meeting" could definitely increase the level of trust between employee and boss, as in "I can trust my boss to waste my time every week."

But whatever.

The overall problem with the "trust building" infographic is that it operates within the context of the traditional boss/employee relationship, which is inherently exploitative and which depends upon an inequality of power and information.

This does not mean that it's impossible to convince your employees to trust you. It's just that, rather than follow the bland advice, you'd need to take these six somewhat more radical steps:

1. Be a role model for honest behavior.

No employee will ever trust a boss who treats customers unethically, breaks the law, cheats on their spouse, or tell lies to advance their career. Indeed, research from the famed Robert Cialdini (credits and honors too numerous to list) recently revealed that bosses who lie create organizations that break laws.

Note: while the infographic does advise bosses to "be honest," it's apparently referring to offering honest criticism rather than exhibiting personal honesty. I'm not sure that's always effective, though. What seems like "honest feedback" to you may feel like "soul-crushing criticism" to somebody else. Just sayin'

2. Make compensation data public.

The reason bosses (and companies) keep employee compensation private is that it keeps the lower-paid employees (mostly women) from thinking "WTF?!" and finding a job somewhere that their talents will be appreciated. Only an idiot trusts a boss who's keeping salary data secret. What are they hiding?

Note: some companies claim salary transparency is a " violation of employee privacy." Give me a break. CEO pay has been public knowledge for years and I've yet to hear a CEO complain. Quite the contrary, CEOs use the public data to justify being paid "comparably" to the big earners. Which is, of course, exactly why bosses don't want it for their employees.

3. Compensate for overtime.

I keep hearing CEOs talk about "creating a great corporate culture" but most of the time that culture seems to require employees, on a regular basis, to work 60, 70, 80, 90 hours (or more) while being compensated for only 40 hours. And that's in addition to being on-call by smartphone 24/7.

It's both unreasonable and unethical (and should be illegal) to expect employees who don't have an ownership stake in a company (and I'm not talking about a few token shares of stock) to work unpaid overtime. Only a complete fool of an employee would trust a boss who expected it.

4. Don't demand non-competes and non-disparagements.

Why would any employee trust a boss who says "if you work for me, you can't work for anyone else" and "if I treat you like crap, I expect you to suck it up and not tell anybody"? Non-competes are illegal in some states and should be illegal throughout the country. As for non-disparagement clauses, their main purpose appears to be to cover up habitual sexual harassment. Enough.

5. Respect employee privacy.

I hate to keep harping on this point, but open plan offices are profoundly disrespectful of employees. While they're sold to employees as "hip" and "fun," the real purpose of these office designs is to have everybody watch everybody else to make sure everyone is working.

Seriously, how can an employee possibly trust boss who doesn't trust you to get your job done without constant surveillance? Give employees privacy, either through private offices or letting them work from home or from the local coffee shop or wherever. They'll be happier, more productive and more likely to trust you.

6. Stop lying to employees.

To be trusted, you must be trustworthy. 'Nuff said.

Published on: Nov 7, 2018
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.