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Is Your Boss's Trust a Blessing or a Curse?

Is Your Boss's Trust a Blessing or a Curse?
Credit: esthermm/Shutterstock

Gaining the trust of a boss is a double-edged sword for many workers, new research finds.

On the plus side, earning the trust of a supervisor is critical to employee empowerment and engagement; however, it also increases employees' sense of being overworked and saddles them with the burden of having to uphold their good reputation, according to a study recently published in the Academy of Management Journal.

"On the one hand, [it] can trigger employee pride," the study's authors wrote. "On the other hand, feeling trusted by a supervisor can increase perceived workload while signaling a reputation that requires effort to maintain."

The study's findings are based on a series of surveys administered to 219 bus drivers and their 20 supervisors. Although the drivers spent most of their time on their buses, they interacted with their supervisors at the beginning and end of their shifts, during their breaks. In addition, they were also in regular radio contact with them during the day. In the end, the researchers surmised that the drivers' supervisor contact time resembles the time employees in white-collar jobs spend with their bosses.

The researchers discovered that, if they limited their analysis to the effect that feeling trusted had on pride, which it tended to foster, emotional exhaustion decreased and job performance went up. However, when the effects of trust on perceived workload and reputational concerns were added to the mix, the morale gain from increased pride and its valuable effect on job performance disappeared. [ ]

Michael Baer, one of the study's authors and an assistant professor at Arizona State University, said the pros and cons of feeling trusted appear to cancel each other out.

"One would think that enjoying a high level of trust from your supervisor would ease the inherent stresses of the job," Baer said in a statement. "But we found no direct association between feeling trusted by the boss and any relief from emotional exhaustion or resultant improvement in job performance."

The researchers believe the study's results offer several lessons for business leaders. Specifically, they wrote that managers shouldn't be so quick to overload their reliable employees with extra work just because they have the trust in them to get it down.

Researchers suggest that if managers do have important added assignments for their trusted employees, they should make sure to remove some of their less important projects to ensure they don't have to high of a workload.

"With respect to reputation...reassuring trusted employees that their hard-earned reputation is not at risk with every stretching assignment could ease an unnecessary burden," the study's authors wrote.

The study was co-authored by Rashpal Dhensa-Kahlon, of Aston University in the United Kingdom; Jason Colquitt and Jessica Rodell of the University of Georgia; Ryan Outlaw of Indiana University; and David Long of the College of William & Mary.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years in media. A 1998 journalism graduate of Indiana University, Chad began his career with Business News Daily in 2011 as a freelance writer. In 2014, he joined the staff full time as a senior writer. Before Business News Daily, Chad spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Chad has also worked on the other side of the media industry, promoting small businesses throughout the United States for two years in a public relations role. His first book, How to Start a Home-Based App Development Business, was published in 2014. He lives with his wife and daughter in the Chicago suburbs.