Confide in the boss? No chance

Dec 07 2006 by Brian Amble Print This Article

It speaks volumes about levels of trust within organisations that as far as most of us who have problems at work are concerned, our boss is one of the last person we would think of turning to for advice.

An on-line survey of more than 3,000 employees, mostly middle to senior-level managers, by CO2 Partners, a Minnesota-based leadership development firm, has found that only one in 10 (11 per cent) would turn to their immediate boss for workplace advice.

In contrast, a quarter of would turn to a colleague within their organisation for help and around one in six to another senior person at work (15 per cent), a friend outside work (14 per cent) or a mentor or coach (13 per cent).

However more people said they would ask their boss for advice than would ask their spouse or partner. In fact only seven per cent would turn to their other half for advice about a work problem.

The finding suggest that there is widespread distrust within organisations, CO2 Partners President Gary Cohen said.

"Someone's immediate report would be the logical starting place for advice, but for the great majority of people, it seems a supervisor is the last person they want to talk with.

"Many employees are clearly wary of management, which is always likely to hurt performance."

Cohen added that one reason for this reluctance might be that employees do not feel comfortable admitting to a supervisor that they need advice.

"Perhaps it's because people are now supposed to be self-reliant and know all the answers, or maybe it's a failure of management to foster the kind of give-and-take crucial to a productive and rewarding work setting," he said. "Either way, it's a persistent nuisance for companies."

A critical element in building trust is encouraging managers to ask questions of employees from the perspective of not knowing all the answers, Cohen said.

"Listen actively to an individual's response, and it will go a long way to build trust," he said.

"If the manager is willing to be vulnerable and admit to not knowing the answer, there's an opportunity to open up a deeper level of communication. But asking such questions has to be authentic, not just a phony gesture or gimmick."

Further, Cohen said the employer should seek to create an organisation culture where not knowing things or making mistakes is not seen as a sign of weakness.

"Instead, let everyone know you'll support them and that asking questions is the right way to show responsibility," he added.