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Elizabeth Fuss Arnott, SPHR  I have been working in Human Resources for 23 years. Since 2011, I have been certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR).  I have a BA in English and a Master of Jurisprudence in Labor and Employment Law from Tulane Law School. I live in the Pacific Northwest with my husband Luke and our cat, Poirot. I write about HR, non-profits, the art of managing people and Neurodiversity in the workplace. I'm available for employment, contract work, consulting, coaching and training virtually and in the Portland, OR area. Please email me at for more information. 

  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Arnott, SPHR

Trust or Bust: How Managers Can Make or Break their Teams

Updated: Apr 17, 2023

"I promise I'll give you more notice next time." An executive in the organization I was working for, let's call him Jim, was asking me to do a rush hire - for someone that started the day before, without any notice given to HR. I believed Jim the first time. Even the second time. But the third time it happened, I decided that even if Jim intended to keep his word, it wasn't likely that the circumstances would allow him to fulfill that promise. This taught me that I couldn't trust his word, or his intentions, no matter how much I enjoyed working with him - I needed to trust my experience with him instead so that I could plan for and implement a successful strategy. If I continued to rely on his promise, I would not ever be prepared for reality. My lack of trust in my leader affected the way I prepared and planned my work.

Trustworthiness is an essential element of a trauma-informed workplace. If, for example, an organization sends out an employee engagement survey, asking employees their opinions on benefits, pay, and the work environment, but then fails to do any follow up communication or take any action based on the results, employees will not trust in that process. They won't trust that you are listening, or even that you are sincere in asking the questions. As a result, they won't tell you what they actually think and it will be far more difficult to get a pulse on your employee engagement, retention, turnover and performance.

People want to trust their supervisors. But that trust is fleeting sometimes. Here are five common things that managers do to sabotage their own trustworthiness with their staff:

  1. Not understanding or advocating for the needs of your employees. You are at a higher level - sometimes you can't see what your staff needs. That's why it's important to LISTEN and then advocate for what they are telling you they need.

  2. Micromanaging. Not trusting your employees to do the job that you hired them to undermines your own authority. It also displays your need for control. Micromanaging can push an employee out very quickly, increasing turnover.

  3. Neglecting to follow through on a promise or commitment. If the manager can't be trusted to meet commitments, then why should your employees? This damages the entire team and your relationship with them, their work ethic and your reputation.

  4. Undermining your employees in front of others. When you talk over your employee, assume that you know better than them, try to answer for them or make commitments on their behalf without communicating to them, you are demonstrating to everyone that you do not trust your employee. This damages your relationship with your employee, their loyalty and dedication to the job, the manager and the organization.

  5. Becoming defensive when your employees give you feedback. Just because you are a manager doesn't mean that you have to or that you automatically know everything. Each of us are fallible humans trying to survive in stressful workplaces, doing the best we can, usually with inadequate training and tools, information and support. Be gracious. Say thank you. Consider their perspective. You aren't right 100% of the time. I promise. No one is.

If you think that trust between you and your employees is damaged, here are six things you can do to build trust with your team and those around you:

  1. Ask for their input. Your employees are the ones that do their jobs on a daily basis. They know it much more intimately than you do, most likely. Before you make decisions about processes, procedures, guidelines, seek input from those doing the work. And when they start talking, be quiet. Listen. Absorb their opinions, their observations. Take notes. Seriously consider what they are saying. Anticipate the impacts of your decision on your staff. Prepare accordingly.

  2. Follow through. If you make a promise, fulfill it. If you make a commitment, meet it. If you miss it, apologize.

  3. Admit when you make a mistake. Many leaders are afraid to let their staff see them call out sick, miss a meeting, make a mistake, have a bad day. But guess what? You are human - you can't hide that from your employees, no matter how hard you try. They know you are human. You make mistakes just like everybody else. Admit it. Talk about it. It gives employees permission to proactively share their own mistakes before they become bigger problems. It helps them understand that you aren't going to be unreasonably punitive when they make mistakes because you understand that humans make mistakes.

  4. Be emotionally invested in your employees' success. When your employees know more, perform better, are confident in their jobs, be proud! Talk up your staff to others in the organization. Make sure your employees know that you appreciate their work - give them specific feedback. Build them up. When they succeed, you succeed. Celebrate!

  5. Take the blame and give the credit. When your employee knocks it out of the park, shout THEIR name from the rooftop - not your own. When an employee makes a mistake, work with your employee to identify the reasons why - focus on the process, not the person. Build on their strengths, give them the feedback they need in an objective way. Acknowledge when they do better.

  6. Build on common goals, interests or priorities. What are the common goals you have with your employees, the common interests, priorities. If you are at a non-profit, maybe it's the mission that you all want to accomplish. If it's government, maybe it's public service that you are both dedicated to. Maybe you have common strengths or things you can learn from each other. Get to know your employees. Find out what makes them tick. Build your relationship from there.

You got this!


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