Does your organisation have trust issues?

Checking in not checking up

Research shows that managers who cannot “ see” their direct reports sometimes struggle to trust that their employees are in fact working.


As a trainee, before mobile phones, my team manager liked to ring establishment I was visiting and ask them to pass on a message to return to the office as he wanted to speak to me. It was a control thing checking up I was where I said I was going to be then making me return to the office. When I mentioned this to the rest of the team they said it’s not just you, he doesn’t trust any of us because he knows what he got up to when he did our job. 

A manager may have good reason not to trust an individual but to assume everyone they manage can’t be trusted is to misunderstand their role. The  role of a manager is not simply to ensure employees do what they are paid to do but to develop mutual trust and respect. The way a manager deals with someone who abuses that trust is to challenge the individual , perhaps restrict their autonomy until confidence is restored but not to introduced ,”close” supervision of the whole team.

The pandemic forced many organisations to require staff to work from home rather that the office. The technical problems were not, it turned out, insurmountable and managers unease about monitoring and supervising home workers were put aside due to necessity. But old habits are hard to break and stories are emerging of organisations expecting workers to return to the office or instilling servalence devices to computers. Organisations which don’t trust their staff like managers who don’t trust their team can not expect employees to trust or respect management. Which is a concern because it is extremely difficult for an organisation to be agile, to respond quickly and smoothly to external circumstances if the workforce does not have confidence and trust in management. 

Likewise a manager can hardly complain that their staff don’t take responsibility and use their initiative if that they have learnt they are not trusted to do so. Oppressive management practices are in the long term incompatible with the aim of being an agile organisation. 


Simply telling managers to trust their employees isn’t going to work. Managers must learn to delegate and empower their workers thus giving them more control over their work. Trusting employees to get on with their work does not mean abdicating responsibility for their work nor does it involve less communication with individuals about their work. What it does mean is a shift away from checking up on individuals to checking in with them to provide information, guidance and support. 


Blair Mcpherson former Director , author and blogger 

Security level: Public

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