A key for employee engagement? Trust them!

September 12, 2018 / James Hughes

We've all seen it happen: an important project needs to get done, a key deliverable, or maybe a junior partner handling a client alone for a first time. And yet, their boss just doesn't seem to trust them. It might be that they hover and double check the work, it might be making all the key decisions, or it might be withholding key information because it is just too sensitive to share.

The common factor? Lack of trust. And it’s killing employee engagement.

Heyns & Rothmann (2018) noted the importance of trust on workplace outcomes. Many projects require delegating work, and with that comes the importance of leaders trusting employees not only to complete the task, but to wisely make decisions around task completion and entrusting them with sensitive information related to the task. The researchers found that 44% of employee engagement can ultimately be contributed to autonomy satisfaction, disclosure, and reliance. This makes sense! People who feel empowered by their organizations will feel more confident in their work, as well as freer to make innovative choices. Additionally, they will want to reciprocate that trust by performing well.

Recommendations for managers:

  1. Cultivate a work culture that encourages workers to question, speak, and act independently

  2. Develop high quality, frequent dialogues with employees so everyone feels “in the loop”

  3. Ask open-ended questions of employees and incorporate their feedback into projects (where appropriate)

  4. Give employees as much freedom to complete their work as is reasonable

Thanks for reading,

James Hughes


Heyns, M., & Rothmann, S. (2018). Volitional Trust, Autonomy Satisfaction, and Engagement at Work. Psychological Reports, 121(1), 112-134. doi:10.1177/0033294117718555