It's fairly routinely known that a lot of employees don't trust their managers, and I've certainly experienced that myself from time to time.


This notes 57% don't trust their managers and gives common reasons-

A lack of regular communication, lying to employees, erratic promotion procedures, favoritism to employees, giving employees minimal support to improve or develop.

This has been my routine experience, with regular efforts to hide bad news, lies about things, blatant favouritism, ignoring direct reports. I look up to my managers and have no idea why they're doing such, or why it's routine behaviour.

From a management side of things, why are behaviours like this fairly common? What pressures from above, the side, or below make them feel that this is a good management strategy that they should follow, to the point where as surveyed the majority of people distrust their managers? Are managers traditionally expected to have trust from their direct reports?

Could someone help me see the manager point of view as to why these behaviours are a good idea?

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    See the The Peter Principle of management. Depending the industry, inappropriate people are promoted to a management position. Ie good developers promoted to management, without training or mentorship in the role, and in turn are not good at the job.
    – Webdevuk
    Commented Apr 13, 2021 at 8:24
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    See also Hanlon's Razor: "never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity". Most people are doing the best they can to do things right. Sometimes that just isn't good enough.
    – Seth R
    Commented Apr 13, 2021 at 15:28
  • I've had my quota of controversial issues, but in short, I think the proximate cause is that there's demand for the pathologies implied by the question, such as the yes-men, the low-bidders, the slave-drivers, the cherry-pickers-of-performance-metrics, and so on. While the conscientious idealists will benefit from the good will they generate, there are also other ways to accomplish the tasks assigned, and most organizations are value neutral in the dimensions that pertain to this question - they may have a fiduciary obligation to be so. But the same things happen even without money involved.
    – Pete W
    Commented Apr 13, 2021 at 16:46

3 Answers 3


I like the first part of Gregory Currie's answer. Managers do not decide that their approach will be to be untrustworthy.

The main reasons why I think this happens differ though.

The first cause is short term thinking. You would think a manager should be the most likely to be able to plan long term but many do not and why would they when so many companies (and governments) don't care about what their actions will cause to happen in a year or five. So when a key employee asks about their promotion prospects do you give them bad news or do you lie and tell them they are up from promotion in six months? Is it bad to get a reputation for being a liar? Maybe but that won't be a problem for at least six months!

The second reason is laziness. It is often easier to tell everyone what they want to hear even though it bears no relation to the reality of the situation. It is harder to persuade people that you have to do things they don't want.

The final thing is different in that, like Gregory Currie's answer, it about seeming untrustworthy due to circumstances rather then deliberately lying. It may be true that I can't trust that what a manager says because their bosses will pull the rug out from under them but I think that is subtly different from that manager being untrustworthy. The net effect is largely the same of course.

As to why they think this is a good idea the bottom line is that often their is no real downside. Even if an employee tries to make a big deal out of dishonesty it is easy to claim that circumstances changed or the employee misunderstood the promises that were made. Most likely result is the employee eventually quits but many employees are quite easily replaced. Lots of managers, and entire companies, have huge turnover in staff and they seem to manage ok just hiring in cheap new staff who have yet to figure out they are liars.

  • That makes sense, more short term thinking, laziness, and bosses above pulling out the rug. Why are these organizational priorities? I've certainly seen organizations regularly prioritize long term thinking in performance reviews, working hard, and discouraged us sabotaging people. Why are these valued as good attributes in management? Plus, I know lots of managers who are very hard workers and still do these, so it can't all be laziness.
    – Nepene Nep
    Commented Apr 13, 2021 at 10:48
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    I think this answer is quite fair. I honestly think there like a gazillion reasons why there may be a perception of dishonesty. Commented Apr 13, 2021 at 11:36

It's not like a manager sits down and thinks "I think being untrustworthy is going to give good results. If that doesn't work, I'll try my other idea: honesty."

Trust, or lack thereof, is formed from actions purely made for other reasons. It's a consequence, rather than a cause of action. Though some managers will sometimes act to not erode trust, but this may be at the expense of something else.

I think it's very easy to sit in a position, without feeling their set of pressures, which will be different from your own, and judge a manager for how they are acting. Without seeing the factors, it may seem like the behaviour is self-destructive.

Nobody is saying it's a good idea to have a lack of trust. But sometimes employees are very confused about what the role of their manager is. Sometimes employees will think "a manager will have my back", when instead they should recognise that a manager should provide an appropriate level of support.

For every bad behaviour you can think of, there can be an explainable reason for it, beyond a manager just deciding to be untrustworthy. I'm not saying these a good reasons, just they are reasons beyond some sort of machiavellian aim to be untrustworthy.

A few examples:

A lack of regular communication

They believe it's an appropriate level of communication already. Or they would rather not bother employees with what they view is useless detail.

Lying to employees

Sometimes bad, or even good news, can harm the team. Maybe some members of the team lack the maturity to handle the truth.

Erratic promotion procedures

The manager may not be the cause. There can be budgetary reasons, HR driven reasons, law reasons, why there may be some chaos when it comes to promotions. I also have to say that sometimes people believe they have a right to a promotion, when this is not often the case.

Favoritism to employees

They are human. They will have employees that they favourite, either for personal or professional reasons. Maybe "Bob" gets all the nasty work cause he is good with dealing with it.

Giving employees minimal support to improve or develop

There may be no budget for it, or they may be too busy.

Ignoring direct reports

Some direct reports are probably better left ignored.

  • Is there some sort of framework that explains why this is the sort of choice they make? That people lack maturity, that direct reports should be ignored, that things other than direct reports are more important, that having professional favorites is good, that it's better to give nasty work to one person? Are they taught to make these choices, are they pressured to make them from above?
    – Nepene Nep
    Commented Apr 13, 2021 at 10:39
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    I'm not doing a good job of explaining this because there is not a single choice. There are a range of reasons on why they do a range of activities. You are choosing to lump these activities together and call it untrustworthy. But your perception does not define reality. Commented Apr 13, 2021 at 11:33
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    There is also an overarching possibility for all of these: management is a skill (or collection of skills) unto itself, and some people in management positions simply aren't good at it. It isn't a choice of anything, just a lack of ability to do better.
    – Seth R
    Commented Apr 13, 2021 at 15:21

Before I got into leadership, I agreed with your assessment. I used to think that how it should work is, if my manager sees I excel in 2 or 3 things, that I will get promoted. And I eventually did, but I was years behind those with more outgoing personalities that asked those kinds of questions or who at that times possessed other skills.

However, I'm a bit introverted, I didn't ask much about development opportunities, how to go up, and drink all the corporate cool-aid like others.

So, I often see people think (and personally how I would think) it's us vs them, individual contributors vs managers(and their favorites). And, unfortunately, to find a well rounded person to promote, it often means that person has to drink the corporate cool-aid

As a leader, let me share some of the things beyond core performance that I think about when looking to promote or develop others.

  • Soft Skills (google it)
  • Leadership Skills (who among the team leads and inspires others in the team)
  • Relationship Building (gets along well with others internally and externally)
  • Exposure (does my manager know you, do my coworking managers know you)
  • Self Development (You have to ask questions, schedule sit downs with your leaders regularly to track your development, push the issue yourself if your leader doesn't, I struggle with aspects of this myself, google it)
  • Go beyond just what they think their role is
  • Receptive to and implements feedback immediately

I coach all the times toward these skills above, but there are employees that don’t drink the corporate coolaid, that aren't 100% flexible and receptive to that feedback. These individuals do not get promoted and are often Mr/Mrs us vs them.

I know it's bs, and maybe it shouldn't be just like that, but that's how it is, and, at least in the United States, you often hit a maximum in your career if you aren't a person that can lead and go above and beyond what's expected.

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    What is the corporate kool aid that others accept and guzzle down and which you refused that drives untrustworthy behaviour? This answer does state how to avoid the behaviour, but not what incentives others have for doing such actions.
    – Nepene Nep
    Commented Apr 13, 2021 at 13:01

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