12 Signs a Company Doesn’t Trust Its Employees

April 3, 2015

We’ve heard it once, we’ve heard it a thousand times: the key to success in business is hiring the right people and staying out of their way (just ask Tina Fey).

So recruiters go out and work their butts off to find the absolute best people, but that’s only half the battle. The “staying out of the way” part is just as crucial, and really, that comes down to one thing: trust.

If a company trusts their employees and shows it by staying out of their way, they’ll do a better job of retaining that talent, the people they have will be more productive and they’ll attract more great people with their great employer brand. If they don’t trust their employees, the exact opposite will happen.

So how do you know if a company really trusts its employees? Like, really trusts them?

Well, it avoids these 12 things:

1. Giving instructions instead of goals

There’s a huge difference between being told what needs to get done and being told how to do it. Trusting companies set goals for their employees to achieve and give them the freedom to achieve them, while offering support if necessary. Untrusting companies tell their employees both what to do and exactly how to do it.

2. Making an employee use PTO to leave early for a dentist appointment

Smart companies don’t care if a worker leaves a little early one day to go to an appointment. Again, that's because they care more about what gets done rather than how it gets done. Untrusting companies make their employees clock in and clock out, making work feel like a burden.

3. Having managers who work all hours of the night

The surest sign of a micromanager is one who constantly complains about being overworked. Why are they so overworked?

They don’t delegate. That's because they don’t trust the people underneath them. Either that, or they are redoing the work they have assigned to others, again because they don’t trust the output.

4. Having a policy for everything

One of my favorite work stories is about a former colleague of mine who was charged with writing a policy for how to write policies; i.e. a policy policy. He was later told to write a standard operating procedure on how the company should go about writing its standard operating procedures.

What do all these burdensome policies scream? We don’t trust the people who work here and therefore need a litany of rules for them to follow.

5. Having insane amounts of approvals

There’s nothing that destroys morale and innovation more than requiring every single action to be approved by a plethora of different people. Just like having a policy for everything, having this sort of burdensome approval process is a clear indication that the company doesn’t really believe in the people it hires.

6. Not allowing their workers to telecommute

Some employers, i.e. employers who don’t trust their employees, think “working from home” is code for “watching Netflix and eating ice cream all day.” But here’s the rub: studies show people are actually more productive working from home.

7. Monitoring employees' internet usage

You can’t have people shopping online for hours at work, right?

Untrusting companies think the best way to combat that is playing Big Brother and monitoring their employees' online activity (people will just surf on their phone instead). Smart, trusting companies realize the best way to combat that is to trust and challenge their employees to do great work, and then they won’t want to spend all day on Amazon.

8. Withholding information from their employees

There’s a reason some of the world’s most-successful companies are exceptionally transparent with their employees – they trust them and they know that information will empower them to act strategically.

Meanwhile, untrusting companies love closed-door meetings and secret emails where knowledge and power is centralized to a select few instead of shared with the many.

9. Keeping someone around they think is inept

If a company makes a mistake hiring and the person just isn’t working out, they should fire them and move on. Not only is it the right thing to do for the person and for the company, but if they don't it will erode the trust the company has in its other employees.

Firing people is never fun, but keeping them around without believing in them is even worse – for everyone.

10. Givng demands, instead of having conversations

Companies that don’t trust their employees rule by fiat, handing down mandates from the heavens that must be adopted without complaint. Smart companies realize that often the best ideas come from employees in the trenches and engage them before making decisions.

11. Ignoring their employees’ complaints

Along those lines, non-trusting employees might give lip service to a suggestion box or something along those lines, but then ignore any of the feedback that comes through. Smart companies allow employees to voice their concerns to top brass anonymously, without fear of retribution, and use that information to improve their organization.

12. Ultimately, not trusting themselves

This is the whole crux of the problem: untrusting employers fundamentally don’t trust themselves, certainly not their own hiring decisions. That mistrust leads to micromanagement in an effort to get employers to work harder and smarter, but it actually has the reverse effect.

Great companies are confident in themselves, and that confidence extends to their employees. Fundamentally, that trust will go a lot further for improving one’s employer brand than any amount of motivational cooking seminars, puppytoriums or portraits of employees as dragonslayers. 

*Image from Office Space

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