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5 action steps for regaining staff trust

By Lynne Curry bio

 When employees or colleagues no longer trust you, they don’t tell you.

Why would they? They don’t trust how you might react to what they say. Their distrust descends below the surface, though it shows up in them keeping their distance from you. Distrustful employees or coworkers protect their backsides. They withhold information. Their morale and productivity lowers.

According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, one in three of the 33,000 employees surveyed don’t trust their employersand as a result provide their employers lower levels of engagement, productivity and loyalty.2,3 According to recent surveys, 25 to 50 percent of employees plan to leave their employers in 2021,4,5 with distrust ranking among the top reasons for this talent exodus.

What created this distrust? Some describe it as collateral damage resulting from how employers and employees alike lost their footing during COVID-19’s first year. Others view it as the ordinary distrust that accumulates when others in your workplace let you down, gossip about you or others, take credit for your work, fail to honor agreements, cover up mistakes, tell white lies, and fail to own their part of problems. In virtual environments and without regular in-person interactions to dispel misunderstandings and mend fences, distrust accumulates until it concretizes into walls.

Managers and colleagues, however, can earn their employees’ and fellow employees’ trust. Here’s how:

Remember that trust flow both ways

Ernest Hemingway said, “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” You can’t expect to earn others’ trust if you don’t extend the benefit of the doubt. If you’re an employee and you feel your coworker “wronged” you, ask them about it without flavoring your words with blame. Then listen.

If you’re a manager or supervisor, give your employees the autonomy they need to do their jobs. Delegate authority and decision-making power along with responsibility. You’re your trust by giving them the space and opportunity to go above and beyond.

No excuses

We trust those who tell the truth without self-justifications or rationalizations. If you make a mistake, don’t cover it up. Admit it. Learn from it. Don’t make the same mistake twice.

Communicate effectively even when relaying bad news; it takes courage to tell the truth without putting a spin on it.


I view accountability coupled with integrity as the two game-changers we need to thrive as we come out the end of the COVID-19 tunnel. (I believe so strongly in this that during the first year of COVID-19, I wrote Managing for Accountability.)6 Accountable managers and employees take responsibility for results. They do what they say they will and more.

If you’re a leader or manager, employees need to know you’ll hold up your end of the employer/employee bargain. Lead your team. Live the core values you proclaim. Work harder than anyone else. Keep your word. Don’t let your employees down.

Get personal

Don’t let the virtual environment eliminate personal connections. Interact with your coworkers and employees. Actually care. It takes courage to speak from the heart.

If you’re a leader who senses you’ve lost employee trust, acknowledge what’s happened and work to restore your employees’ confidence. Otherwise, your employee survivors may go through the motions, less productive and less willing to give their all.

When one of my clients called and asked what they needed to do for employees they planned to lay off, I suggested that in addition to severance, they ask the employee’s managers to write detailed, genuine letters of recommendation for each-laid off employee. One by one I heard from employees who carried those letters of recommendation into job interviews and landed new jobs. Several said, “The interviewer said he’d never seen such a detailed reference letter. I think it got me the job.”

Honest and transparent

If you’re a leader, treat your employers like partners as you communicate where your organization is headed. Tell them what you see ahead in terms of challenges and opportunities, without pumping up the positives while glossing over the risks and negatives. Listen to and address their concerns.

Include your employees in your decision-making by talking with, not at them. Involving your employees in shaping your company’s future shows respect, increases their buy-in and instills trust because your employees see and feel that you respect their ideas.

Trust can be broken. It can be rebuilt.















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