Build Trust with Your Employees & Direct Reports

Build Trust with Employees

The relationship between a supervisor and their direct report is one of the most important in your organization. How you manage (or mismanage) this relationship can have a profound impact on the organization as a whole. Time and time again, the data from the surveys we implement shows that one’s immediate supervisor is among the top reasons for an employee leaving their job. The stronger the relationship you have with your direct report, the less likely they are to leave. But what makes a great supervisor-employee relationship? Well, the answer to that may vary based on individuals, roles, and company culture, but the foundation is always the same – trust. Building trust with employees and your direct reports must be genuine, but when you make sure proactive support, availability, follow-through, and consistent management are present, having a quality rapport is much easier.

Regular Check-Ins

Your direct report needs to know you will be there for them when they need you. Set aside time to meet with them regularly, and be able to jump in on short notice to help or listen when asked. Regular check-ins allow your employees a time and space they know is dedicated to them and allows you both a space to discuss concerns, answer questions, provide feedback, and hear ideas. During these check-ins, make sure the ball is in their court. This is about THEM, not YOU, and that means you need to let them feel heard, and assure them that you are their number one priority during that dedicated time.

Proactive Conversations

It’s not enough to just be reactive with your direct reports. Being there when they need you is important, but being there BEFORE they need you is where you really have the chance to shine as a trusted source of information and development for them. Ask what they need from you and how you can better support them. Take the opportunity to be situation-specific regarding what they need and what you, as a supervisor, can do better. Initiating the discussion will help you give them what they need before they have a chance to be upset that they don’t have it and in some case before they even realized it was something they needed. When my supervisor asks me questions, it’s a great cue for me to shift my focus and consider if there is anything that might help me do my job better, more efficiently, or more thoroughly and how my supervisor can support in making sure those needs are met.


The longer you wait, the less important your direct report will think their communication is to you. That’s why follow-through and responsiveness are such important factors in building trust with employees. Even if you can’t get around to providing them with a thorough answer or deeper insight until later, taking a moment to simply acknowledge that you’ve seen their message and that it is an important thing on your radar goes a long way. Include a time when you believe you’ll be able to follow up and they will know that even though you have other things that require your attention first, what they presented does hold a place of importance for you. That’s a big deal. When you commit to an action, though, make sure you hold yourself accountable for that follow-through and promptly meet any agreed-upon deadlines.

Really, this boils down to a pretty simple management effectiveness technique: don’t play favorites. Individual interactions are important, but managing all of your direct reports consistently is also a trust builder that you don’t want to mess up. No one wants to feel like they are being singled out while someone else is being favored. Handle performance or policy issues with each direct report in a manner equally appropriate to the type of situation in every case. Take advantage of opportunities to provide praise to the group as a whole, as well as the contribution of each individual. When everyone knows they are on an even playing field, it’s much easier to put their trust in the manager who created and was clearly dedicated to maintaining the level ground.

Building trust between supervisors and direct reports not only leads to a valued relationship, but it often equates to higher levels of motivation, too. After all, employees are far more likely to work harder for someone they trust and who they know is in their corner than someone who simply likes to crack the whip.

Identify Areas of Improvement

Our people-focused engagement surveys can provide an overview of your organization and specific insight into areas, such as supervision, to pinpoint where employee perceptions lie and indicate successful areas of supervision as well as areas of opportunity for improvement. A supervisor-employee relationship built on genuine trust will allow you to keep your team members longer and will create an environment in which employees can flourish without fear.

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