ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2022, Vol. 30 ›› Issue (7): 1448-1462.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2022.01448

• Conceptual Framework • Previous Articles     Next Articles

The development of employees’ feeling trusted by their supervisors

ZHU Ningyi1, JIANG Ning2, LIU Yan2()   

  1. 1School of Economics and Management, Fuzhou University, Fuzhou 350108, China
    2Economics and Management School, Wuhan University, Wuhan 430072, China
  • Received:2021-11-23 Online:2022-07-15 Published:2022-05-17
  • Contact: LIU Yan


The extant literature suggests that employees' perception of being trusted by their supervisors is important in the workplace, as such perception can lead to many positive work-related outcomes. Although we have understood how and why feeling trusted has consequences, little is known about its development. Overlooking how feeling trusted develops may limit its effective application to managerial practices, because it is only when felt trust is successfully triggered that it could lead to the establishment of trust relationship and ultimately affect employee behavior. As a perception derived from the processing of trust-related information, employees’ feeling trusted by their supervisors may not necessarily fit the supervisors' actual trust. Therefore, to better manage employees by making them feel trusted, supervisors as the trustors, should not only take the initiative to engage in trusting behaviors, but also consider how to make employees perceive their trust accurately.
Drawing on the symbolic interactionist view and social information processing theory, we develop a conceptual model about the development of employees’ feeling trusted by their supervisors. According to the model, delegation and coaching are identified as two of the critical factors that influence employees’ feeling trusted by their supervisors. The effects of delegation and coaching on feeling trusted depend on the employee’s goal orientation, on the supervisor’s trustworthiness, and on the level of team anxiety. While employees’ perception of being trusted influences their loyalty and dedication, the amount of influence exerted is conditional on the management risks faced by their supervisors.
By delineating how and when supervisory trusting behavior can make employees feel trusted and accordingly influence their work behaviors, the current research makes three important contributions both theoretically and practically. First, feeling trusted is not determined by the trustor or the trustee alone, but develops through interactions between the two parties. Although previous studies have examined the influence of leadership on feeling trusted by supervisors, they have not explained it from the perspective of trust interaction. We identify delegation and coaching as two types of supervisory trusting behaviors, through which supervisors can convey symbolic trust cues. By doing so, our study, theoretically, extends the understanding about the antecedents of feeling trusted by supervisors and, practically, offers new insights into what supervisors can do to make employees feel trusted. Second, although the development of feeling trusted by supervisors relies on social information processing, few studies have explored its internal mechanism. Based on social information processing theory, our research initiates a new dialogue on the mechanisms and boundary conditions regarding the development of feeling trusted by supervisors. We do not only focus on potentially positive and negative paths regarding trust information processing but also explore how information relevance (employee goal orientations) and credibility (supervisor trustworthiness) moderate those paths. The study of employee goal orientations is conducive to identifying the target employees for whom supervisory trusting behaviors are more likely to be effective, while the study of supervisor trustworthiness further clarifies the positive or negative influence that supervisors may have in trust information delivery and processing. Practically, this study provides important guidance for supervisors to manage the target employees by facilitating their feeling trusted in an effective manner. Third, by exploring the moderating effects of two negative team-level factors (team anxiety and management risk), our study enriches the understanding about the contexts of trust interactions between supervisors and subordinates. Practically, we provide implications for how supervisors can adopt trust management strategies in an environment full of high uncertainty and challenges.

Key words: feeling trusted by supervisor, supervisory trusting behavior, employee goal orientations, supervisor trustworthiness

CLC Number: