Trust in the Workplace: Telltale Signs That Your Team Is in Trouble

Updated on June 9, 2020
SMD2012 profile image

Sally is a business communications coach who gives workshops on how to keep your professional reputation squeaky-clean and drama-free.

Can you spot the subtle signs that trust is being eroded in your office? If you're a team leader who wants to bring out the best in others, read these tips on how to build trust in the workplace.

Your role as a leader is to foster a healthy workplace culture.

Boredom, apathy, lack of enthusiasm---if your staff are showing signs that they are losing interest in their work, as a manager, that's your cue to start engaging your workers in meaningful ways.
Boredom, apathy, lack of enthusiasm---if your staff are showing signs that they are losing interest in their work, as a manager, that's your cue to start engaging your workers in meaningful ways.

Did you know that employee turnover can cost an organization up to 213% of a high-impact employee’s salary? There aren’t many organizations that can afford to run a successful business this way. So what makes good employees walk away? The employment resource website recently released a survey shedding light on stress in the workplace.

  • 42% of U.S. respondents to a survey conducted by had “purposely changed jobs due to a stressful work environment.”
  • 66% of their employers had done “nothing” to alleviate the stress that had precipitated their resignations.

Here are some telltale signs that a workplace leader should be on the lookout for if she wants her team to succeed. Addressing these behaviors early on in a firm, fair, and empathetic manner can mean all the difference in the world when you want your business to grow and your employees to thrive.

Gossip is flourishing in the office. When conflict and tension arises in the workplace, instead of employees talking directly to one another to solve problems, they talk about the problems to everyone but the people directly involved. Employees may justify gossiping as a form of ‘private venting, but it is a harmful way to relieve stress. Employees need better outlet for addressing their concerns.

Employees start playing the “The Blame Game.” When a project doesn’t achieve the desired results, have you noticed staff members pointing their fingers at one another? If you are not familiar with the blame game, read the story That’s Not My Job (see left), and ask yourself if this sounds familiar. Staff need to be encouraged to view failures and let-downs as opportunities for collective improvement, not an excuse to play Pass the Hot Potato.

Everyone at work seems to be just going through the motions. Another expression for going through the motions is “phoning it in.” Instead of bringing their best thinking forward, staff are keeping their heads down and tightly sticking to the status quo. This type of behavior can be a telltale sign that trust has been eroded because staff are hunkering down, operating in survival mode. They may be fearful that their efforts won’t be recognized or worse, credit for their work will be given to someone else.

When staff aren't given challenging work to do, boredom sets in; and that can lead to low staff morale.
When staff aren't given challenging work to do, boredom sets in; and that can lead to low staff morale.

That's Not My Job: A cautionary tale

That’s Not My Job! This is a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have.

(Author Unknown)

No one talks to one another. Collaboration and teamwork have ground to a halt. When staff are focussing solely on their own work, that can have a big impact on the whole teams success. Some of the reasons staff often stop collaborating with one another are:

  • Fear that their ideas and contributions won’t be acknowledged.
  • Avoiding contact with other employees they can’t get along with.
  • They’re already overworked and worry that if they work on a bigger team project, the time they need to complete individual projects for which they are responsible will be compromised.

People seem to be losing their cool a lot more often. Instead of giving each other supportive feedback and speaking respectfully, employees are losing patience with one another. Conflict and emotional outbursts have become the norm.

So, how do you get your team back on track when you start seeing these telltale signs of distrust and stress in the workplace? Drs.Dennis and Michelle Reina, authors and human resources consultants, have several recommendations to help curb the disruptive behaviors that cause unnecessary stress and chaos in the workplace.1

1. Acknowledge the signs of stress in the workplace. Leaders and managers need to create a safe environment where team members can talk about issues and concerns. The founders of Reina, A Trust Building Consultancy, advise managers to “Listen for the impact. Allow [employees] to express their frustrations, feelings and needs.”

2. Re-frame. Provide team members with tools and resources to help them see the bigger picture, that is, show them how they are making a difference to the organization’s success, both as individuals and as part of a team. Link the work they do to tangible results that have positive outcomes.

3. Encourage personal responsibility. “People do not always have control over what circumstances provide stress. However, they do have control over how to respond. Support your team members in taking responsibility for their own behaviors and educate them in what they can to do relieve stress.”

When it comes to building trust in the workplace, one of the best things you can do as a leader is to lead by example. That may sound trite, but only when you act with integrity, honesty, fairness and compassion yourself, can you ask your staff to do the same.

Finally, foster a culture of appreciate in the workplace. A potluck lunch is a great way to bring workers together in a fun, friendly, and relaxed environment. A laughter yoga workshop is another activity that can help boost morale and bring teams together.

What tips do you have for fostering trust and encouraging integrity in the workplace? Please share your career insights in the comments.



The way to become a better listener is to practice "active listening." This is where you make a conscious effort to hear not only the words that another person is saying but, more importantly, try to understand the complete message being sent.

Are you actively listening to your employees' concerns or are you just repeating what they say?
Are you actively listening to your employees' concerns or are you just repeating what they say?

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2014 Sally Hayes


Submit a Comment
  • SMD2012 profile imageAUTHOR

    Sally Hayes 

    6 years ago

    Thanks Eric! I think once trust in the workplace has been diminished, it's so much harder to get it back. Managers are better off leading the way towards healthier office interactions to begin with rather than trying to undo the damage once it's done.

  • Ericdierker profile image

    Eric Dierker 

    6 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

    Very interesting.


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