Mending a lack of employee trust

Employee-executive trust is the backbone of any smooth-running organization. Professionals need to be able to trust their leaders in order to successfully execute day-to-day tasks. Yet, one in three workers don’t trust their employers, reported Fast Company.The latest Edelman Trust Barometer surveyed 33,000 professionals across nearly 30 countries to learn more about the levels of trust across industries and organizations.

The report found that levels of trust decrease down the company structure. Nearly 65 percent of all executives claim to trust their organizations, 51 percent of managers said the same and only 48 percent of rank and file staff reported a sense of confidence in their business. The findings indicate that there is a growing chasm of mistrust between employees and C-suite leaders. In fact, the majority of non-managerial respondents reported that they trust their peers more than their CEO for company information.

The majority of non-managerial respondents…trust their peers more than their CEO for company information.”

But what exactly is causing this level of distrust? According to the report, there are major gaps in what employees consider trust-building actions and their employers’ actual practices. One key example relates to ethics. Half of respondents claim that it is important to them that their leaders display extremely ethical behaviors. However, only 24 percent of these same participants reported that their CEOs emulate these actions.

These gaps were similar across other crucial criteria such as responsibility, feedback, transparency and listening skills. The biggest gap is arguably the most concerning though, according to the survey. While employees put a high value on the quality treatment of employees, there was a 27 percentage point gulf between the idea and the practice of it.

Digging beyond internal practices

The problem with trust in the modern business climate runs deeper than strictly internal practices for many employees. The study found that 80 percent of respondents claim they want to better understand the personal values of their CEOs.

“Employees want their organizations and the people who lead them to be motivated by more than just profit and business performance,” explained the report’s author Christopher Hannegan. “In fact, employees said they are more likely to perform better, recommend the company’s products and services, and stay with the organization if the CEO is actively and visibly engaged in societal issues.”

The desire to better understand a leader’s motivation doesn’t end there – 73 percent of participants wanted to learn more about how to overcome obstacles from their CEO and 68 percent expressed a desire to hear their personal success story. These findings are of interest to executives because they indicate that the lack of trust between employers and executives may stem from deeper concerns than previously posited.

According to recent research, employees want to understand more than a CEO's corporate values.According to recent research, employees want to understand more than a CEO’s corporate values.

The major takeaway from this study is that leaders have lost some serious control over organizational information and its provision, explained Fast Company. This is a major problem, considering staff members are among the most trusted external representatives for any given company. “As long as employees don’t trust their employers, employers cannot trust what their employees say,” concludes the report.

It is clear to see that this is an issue that needs to be remedied with increasing urgency – but how? Let’s take a look at a few key ways executives across industries can better foster trust within their organizations.

1. Execute on feedback: Asking for feedback is a great way for leaders to communicate that they trust their team; it’s also extremely effective in creating a more transparent culture. However, building genuine trust requires leaders to not only ask for feedback but to earnestly try to implement change based on those suggestions or comments. According to Forbes, requesting feedback from a team and then ignoring the results can be more damaging to trust than never asking for it at all. Executives should seek out thoughtful commentary from their team only when they have the intention of leveraging those insights into actionable shifts. Feedback is a powerful tool to engage a team and gain trust, but the execution is the most important element.

Feedback is a powerful tool to engage a team and gain their trust.”

2. Exemplify honesty: Leaders that create an open and honest relationship with their team are fostering a deep culture of trust. Organizations that are looking to improve employee faith in leadership should ensure that transparency permeates every level of corporate policy. Leaders should let their team know what is happening with company growth – both the good and the bad. Half-hearted honesty could have an adverse effect on honesty, so executives making a commitment to transparency should make sure they go all the way. Whether it be a failure or a big deal in the making, letting your team take a front row seat will increase trust levels throughout the company.

3. Lead by example: Inc. Magazine reported on a study that found that trust ultimately stems from the tone set by executives. Leaders who lead by example are much more likely to have a staff that trusts their executive management team. Ultimately, trust is a trickle-down process. If leaders want to see an increase in trust throughout the organization, they need to be vocal about this as one of their top priorities and show their team what trust looks like in action. Executives have major influence on the actions of their team, so leading by example is crucial for improving organizational trust.

The findings of the Edelman Trust Barometer indicate that trust in the modern business climate is shaky at best, emphasizing the need for more reliable and steadfast leadership. When undergoing the process of executive search and recruitment, organizations must keep trust in mind. Can this leader foster the loyalty of your employees? Will trust be an executive priority for this candidate? If not, it may be necessary to find a candidate that will.

About Caldwell Partners

Caldwell Partners is a leading international provider of executive search and has been for more than 45 years. As one of the world’s most trusted advisors in executive search, the firm has a sterling reputation built on successful searches for boards, chief and senior executives, and selected functional experts. With offices and partners across North America, Latin America, Europe and Asia Pacific, the firm takes pride in delivering an unmatched level of service and expertise to its clients.

Back to Insights

Stay on top of the latest intel across multiple industries and continents.