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This is part of a series looking at micro skills – changes that employees can make to help improve their health and life at work and at home, and employers can make to improve the workplace. The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell have created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and well-being of their employees first. Register your company now at

Honesty is really the best policy. The managerial micro skill of honesty is the daily practice where a manager is transparent and truthful with his or her staff, peers and senior leaders.

There may be no more important action for building trust in an organization than the honest interaction between managers and employees. Trust is an intangible outcome that is critical for any organization's short- and long-term success. The degree of trust employees have in their manager and senior leaders plays a role in shaping and creating a positive culture that directly impacts an organization's productivity and results.

Telling the truth requires attention and discipline to avoid getting away from the facts. Dr. Paul Ekman, author of Telling Lies, found through his research that the average person lies about three times in a 10-minute conversation.

This suggests that many managers may shade the truth when interacting with their employees to avoid conflict or difficult conversations. One of the core reasons why employees do not like or trust their managers is that they simply do not believe their manager is being truthful.

Trust plays a role in predicting which employees will be engaged and disengaged. The benefits of having trust in an organization are measureable. Organizations with engaged employees in Canada were found to have 26 per cent less turnover, 20 per cent less absenteeism, and 15 per cent greater employee productivity.

The degree of trust between managers and employees at all levels ultimately defines the degree to which employees view their organization as trustworthy.

At the core of trust between managers and employees is the degree of communication between them, as well as the managers' openness to answer difficult questions honestly.

Practicing honesty

Integrity check

At the core of honesty and trust is integrity. Developing this micro skill is totally dependent on a manager's integrity. The first action to take is to complete an online integrity checklist to obtain a baseline of the kinds of actions others use to evaluate a person's level of integrity.

After completing this self-assessment, print and explore your results. If you have any questions it can be helpful to discuss your results with a trusted adviser. Actions a manager can take to improve how others perceive them include doing what they say they will do, sharing credit, and following through. Employees filter what they hear by the degree of integrity and trust they have in their manager.

Current approach review

It's common for managers to develop their own style with respect to how they interact with their employees, peers and senior leaders. Improving one's perception of how they are trusted begins with self-awareness and reflection.

Some managers frame their messages to ensure that what they say is perceived as being positive. The positive aspect of this approach is the attention to the message, and how others may react. One challenge, though, is that this practice can result in a habit of holding back useful information, padding things, and leading to a reputation as not being forthcoming. The objective for this step is to catch yourself with respect to style and approach. Only you will know if you are holding things back and shading the truth. To improve, you have to be honest with yourself first.

Honesty foundation

Trust begets trust. To get trust a manager has to give trust as well. Being honest with others may not always be the most popular action. When trust is an issue between a manager and employee this is an opportunity to discover why that is and what can be done to fix it. Making a commitment to being honest and accepting the consequences are at the core of building integrity.

Honest conversations

Managers who are committed to being honest with themselves and others and telling the truth are prepared to have honest conversations. Perhaps one of the hardest things about being a manager is maintaining and enforcing expectations. When an employee underperforms this is an opportunity to support that employee to learn what they can do better, not to avoid having a discussion at all.

Honest two-way conversations happen when employees trust their managers. The goal of this micro skill is to make a commitment each day to tell employees the truth, catch yourself when shading the truth, and fix when necessary.

Being honest can by times be a lonely road. However, over time it will establish credibility and trust. Managers who are known to be honest become pillars that trust and respect are built around.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto. He is also the president of Howatt HR Consulting and founder of TalOp, in Kentville, N.S.

This series supports The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell's Employee Recommended Workplace Award.

This award recognizes employers who have the healthiest, most engaged and most productive employees. It promotes a two-way accountability model where an employer can support employees to have a positive workplace experience.

You can find all the stories in this series at this link:

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