But top leaders could be in denial, finds CIPD report

One in three employees say that their level of trust in senior management is weak, according to new CIPD research.

But the results did not reflect a general decline across the board, as people’s trust in their colleagues (92 per cent) and line managers (80 per cent) remained robust, found the report, ‘Employee Outlook: Focus on the current state of trust in leaders’.

The research was based on a survey of nearly 3,000 employees across the private, public and voluntary sectors, in roles ranging from front-line staff through to senior managerial roles.

It revealed that trust between employees and senior managers appeared to be particularly weak in the public sector, but strong in the voluntary sector.

Only 2 per cent of respondents from the public sector rated trust in their senior management as “very strong”, compared to 6 per cent in the private sector and 8 per cent in the voluntary sector.

At the other end of the scale, 17 per cent of public-sector respondents reported trust levels as being “very weak”, in contrast to 10 per cent in the private sector and 9 per cent in the voluntary sector.

Interestingly, senior managers were likely to take a “rosier view” – reporting higher levels of trust between themselves and their subordinates than vice versa.

“There seems to be a real lack of awareness amongst senior managers, who rate the trust levels much stronger than more junior employees,” said Claire McCartney, research adviser at the CIPD and author of the report. “If senior leaders are in denial or burying their heads in the sand, there is a danger that a ‘them and us’ mentality will emerge and change will be very difficult to achieve.”

The research also found that trust was held to be the third most important attribute in senior managers, after competency and communication.

The majority of employees answering the survey said that there were simple and effective ways for senior leaders to build trust, such as being “approachable, competent and consistent”, “acting with honesty and integrity”, and “leading by example”.

Admitting mistakes and treating staff with respect were also trust-building qualities cited by respondents.

Peter Cheese, the CIPD’s chief executive, commented: “Cultures of trust are vital if we’re to build sustainable and successful organisations. Senior managers should try to tap into the strong levels of trust between colleagues and line mangers by observing what’s working well and increasing communications and transparency with front-line staff in order to close the inherent distance that exists between them.”