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Does Your Employee Trust You?

Pallas and Ezra 2012

We like to think we are trustworthy managers and employees but our actions are what make us trustworthy not our thinking we are trustworthy.

So how do you tell if you are a trustworthy manager and why does this matter if you are managing an employee with cancer?

What is trust?

Trust is one of those words we know exactly what it means but have a hard time explaining. According to Charles Feltman, author of the Thin Book of Trust: An Essential Primer for Building Trust at Work, trust is choosing to make something you value vulnerable to another person. (I HIGHLY recommend you read his short, easily digestible book!)

So when your employee comes to you and shares with you their diagnosis, they are making something they value (the information, their health) vulnerable to you and your actions. For heaven’s sake, be careful!

This definition alone is why I suggest that every manager have 2 - 3 key phrases to use when an employee shares a difficult situation.

How does trust make your team better?

According to Paul Zak, founding director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies and a professor of economics, psychology, and management at Claremont Graduate University, and the CEO of Immersion Neuroscience and author of Trust Factor: The Science of Creating High-Performance Companies, people at high-trust companies report:

50% higher productivity,

13% fewer sick days,

40% less burnout.

Who doesn’t want that for their team?

The Four Components of Trust

As managers, when you think about your own trustworthiness, you usually conclude that you are trustworthy. But it turns out trust has four separate components so your employees can feel you are trustworthy in one component and not another. Understanding the four components of trust makes gaining your employees’ trust much more manageable and actionable.

Trust often erodes quickly when an employee has cancer and it’s usually the result of misguided ideas around four specific characteristics that Mr. Feltman discusses in his book.

Care. Competency. Reliability. Sincerity.

These four, or rather the lack of them, are often one of the undiagnosed side effects that cause your team’s productivity to decrease when a teammate has cancer and can cost you your employee at the end of cancer treatment. (Who wants to work for a person they couldn’t trust during one of the most difficult moments of their lives?)

Good news!

Breaking trust down into these four characteristics makes building (or losing trust) much more actionable and explainable.


If you don’t show you care, it’s hard to consider you trustworthy. I consider this the base of trust. Actions in the other three areas won’t matter much if you can’t demonstrate that you care about your employees.

How to Care: At the base of showing you care are three things. 1. Ask 2. Listen 3. When you reply, make it mostly about them.

An example

Your employee with cancer: “I can’t meet this deadline.”

You (Ask): “Tell me more”

You employee with cancer (Listen): “The chemo is affecting my ability to work worse than I thought. I feel bad because I don’t want to let the team down. And I am afraid I will be fired because I can’t do the work.”

You (About them): “I hear you. Let’s talk about what you think you can accomplish in the next four weeks. Then we can talk about how to ask the team for help. They like you and I think you’re a valuable employee!”

You asked. You listened. You showed you cared!

If you don’t show your care, it weakens the other three components immensely.


Competency is the assessment that you have the ability to do what you need to do or that you have the ability to learn what you are proposing to do. Its lack is a key driver in the erosion of manager trust.

Cancer bias often causes managers to believe that an employee with cancer is not competent to continue contributing. (Click here to learn about cancer bias.)The result? Micromanaging and/or removing the employee with cancer from important projects that incidentally are keeping the employee and team engaged.

Check your cancer bias. What assumptions are you making about your employee with cancer and their ability to work? Are they really true or are they based on your idea of what it means to have cancer?

Cancer does not mean incompetent. Sure, their ability to accomplish what YOU expect them to do might change but you have no way of knowing how if you don’t have a conversation with them.


Reliability is when you fulfill the commitments you make. This is where many managers falter when managing employees with cancer.

Often times a simple change in schedule causes managers to see an employee with cancer as unreliable. If an employee is working on M, W, F. During your initial conversation with the employee with cancer and the team, you said you would meet again to adjust and reassign project scopes, or complete work plans or reworked goals. But you haven’t followed up. Instead, the work the team is doing remains the same and the team is now picking up slack where they can, in confusion. You are seen as unreliable to the employee with cancer and to your team. The result? Low productivity, decreased team productivity, decrease team cohesion, and an employee who finds employment elsewhere after they are cancer-free.


Sincerity is the assessment that you are honest and will act with integrity. It is encompassed by the saying “say what you mean, mean what you say.” It’s about having honest conversations around things like your employee’s continued inability to complete their work. Here is an example of a manager that has a high level of sincerity with their team :

An employee with cancer on your team seems to not be meeting deadlines. One team member comes to you with concerns. You check in with them to align expectations with intention. “When I asked you to help the employee with cancer, I expected you to reset milestones so that you could meet deadlines. Is that what you expected?”

Being sincere is also about being clear.

Building trust is about taking consistent actions in each of these four components. What I love about these four categories is that it allows anyone to assess where they need to grow to improve trust.

Your team can trust you in one category and not in another. You may be partially trustworthy, but now you know how you can become fully trustworthy.

Remember your team is always watching you. When managing an employee with cancer, your actions are amplified.

So …

Be thoughtful. Be curious. Take thoughtful action.

Not sure how to show up for your employee, coworker, or friend with cancer? Get my book and feel confident!

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