From a new study of London bus drivers by Michael Baer and colleagues:

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What this diagram shows is a double-edged sword to feeling trusted at work.

When we’re trusted by our managers and others, it comes with high perceived expectations.  We feel the job requires more of us, and that we’re expected to do a great deal.  And, we worry. We worry that we won’t be able to live up to those expectations.  We worry about maintaining the reputation that earned us that trust in the first place.  These two things together result in emotional exhaustion (feeling spent and burnt out), reducing your job performance.  This is changed in complicated ways by pride:  Feeling trusted creates pride, which reduces emotional exhaustion. But it also amplifies the reputation maintenance concerns that increase exhaustion.

So what can we make of this result?  We know from previous research that feeling trusted can build self-esteem and lead people to go above and beyond in their work.  But this new study suggests that some of these gains might be eroded if those we trust end up preoccupied with worry over meeting ever-growing expectations.

So, having read this, here are two questions I’d ask myself as a manager:

  1.  Are you trusting people with tasks they actually feel confident in doing?  I would imagine that both perceived workload and reputation maintenance concerns would increase as people get handed tasks that aren’t really in their wheelhouse. You need to make sure that people feel as confident in their own abilities as you do.
  2. Are you overburdening your most trusted employees?  Some tasks require deep trust.  Others don’t.  As you add new tasks, are you subtracting others?  Baer and colleagues talk about the need for subtraction:  “As the acceptance of vulnerability brings additional responsibilities for a given employee, chores that could be allocated elsewhere (or eliminated altogether) could be subtracted.”