The role of trust in organizational communication

The Role of Trust in Organizational Communication

How to Deal with an Untrustworthy Employee

When a team has an untrustworthy member, it can destroy team morale and productivity. If co-workers don’t trust one another, collaboration evaporates. If left unchecked, an untrustworthy employee can spread mistrust like a virus and destroy organizational culture. Eventually, good employees leave. 

Managers must know how to deal with untrustworthy employees before they become toxic, sapping the emotional energy of all around them. 

Is an Untrustworthy Employee a Bad Employee?

It is easy to make a kneejerk decision and fire an untrustworthy employee. However, their untrustworthiness neither makes them a ‘bad’ person nor a bad employee. Their untrustworthiness may be because of their own mistrust of others. They may feel threatened by others or may have become untrustworthy because they are resisting organizational change.

Before taking the ultimate action, a manager should look for signs that the employee is not all bad. These may include the following lifestyle characteristics:

  • The employee is popular with many friends among their colleagues, some of whom may also be friends out of work

  • They are kind toward others, perhaps praising others in team meetings or providing support to colleagues with mental health issues

  • The employee is in a long-term, loving relationship

  • Other managers describe the employee positively

Of course, such signs may be smokescreens, hiding the employee’s real nature. It may be that the employee is considered as trustworthy by others, but acts differently with the manager. If the employee is otherwise productive, is it not worthwhile to rebuild trust to take the employee from conflict to collaboration?

7 Steps to Deal with Untrustworthy Employees

1. Show Vulnerability

Show vulnerability by willingness to discuss your weaknesses. This helps the employee to overcome their hesitance to discuss their problems and could help you uncover underlying issues that are at the heart of their untrustworthiness. 

For many managers, recognizing and sharing weaknesses is difficult. However, this level of self-awareness is evidence of high emotional intelligence reminiscent in high-performing managers and leaders.

2. Be Transparent

Untrustworthiness may stem from an employee not trusting the manager. Empower a culture of trust by being open about your plans. Share goals and encourage employees to express what they are thinking and how they feel

3. Understand the Employee’s Behavior

It is imperative to gain a deep understanding of the employee’s behavior, and to learn of the root causes. Are their actions caused by unhappiness in their work, frustration with colleagues, or disillusion with their professional progress?

If you can pinpoint cause, you may be able to develop strategies to help the employee develop coping mechanisms and develop greater honesty and trustworthiness. Coaching or counselling could be the answer that unlocks an employee’s better mental health

4. Recognize Acceptable Behaviors

As coaching of the employee begins, ensure that you recognize and reward acceptable behaviors. This will help to reinforce the attitudes you expect from the employee and demonstrate that you are on the employee’s side and not ‘out to get them’

5. Explain the Consequences

If your efforts to date have not encouraged the changes you desire, then you must take time to explain the consequences of the employee not changing their attitude and actions. Explain that their behavior is putting at risk what they hold most dear. Discuss how they are hampering their own professional success and that if the behavior persists then disciplinary action may be necessary.

6. Take the Ultimate Action

Despite all your efforts, some people will not change. You have given it your best efforts and provided all the opportunities you can. If the problem cannot be fixed, you must explore what action is needed and take that action. If you don’t, then other employees may become disheartened as the untrustworthy employee’s behavior spreads mistrust wider.

7. Stay Focused

It is easy for a manager’s time, energy and effort to be focused on managing an untrustworthy employee, but you must remember that you also have a wider team and business to run. Ensure that other employees remain positive and productive, and that you concentrate on your own mental well-being.

In Summary

In summary, don’t allow the situation to continue. Be open and honest and discuss with the employee their unacceptable behaviors with specific examples. Provide actionable guidance on how to change and resist the temptation to fire the employee without making every effort to turn them around. Finally, remember that you have business goals and other team members to manage – allocate your personal resources accordingly.

Contact us today to discover how we could help your leaders, managers and employees improve their communication practices and strategies, and how this could feed through to your organization’s performance.


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