A survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that one in three (34 per cent) employees describe their level of trust in senior managers as weak.
By contrast, 92 per cent of people said they trust their colleagues and 80 per cent had faith in their line managers to some or a great extent.
In light of the findings, the CIPD expressed a concern about a "counterproductive 'them and us' mentality" developing in too many UK workplaces.
The professional body for human resources and people development surveyed nearly 3,000 employees in the private, public and voluntary sectors, ranging from frontline staff to senior managers.
A quarter (26 per cent) of public sector workers rated the overall level of trust between employees and senior management in their organisation as weak, more than those in the private sector (22 per cent) and volunteers (21 per cent).
The research also found that trust ratings increase in line with seniority, with managers more likely than regular workers to think their organisation performs well in this area.
Claire McCartney, research adviser at the CIPD, said many company leaders seem to be viewing the trust issue "with rose-tinted glasses", or are out of touch with the workforce at large.
CIPD chief executive Peter Cheese said: "Cultures of trust are vital if we're to build sustainable and successful organisations.
"We know that people want to work in organisations with a strong sense of purpose and values, and that environments of mutual trust enable people to speak up so that good ideas can prosper and bad practice can be stamped out."
One approach to engendering trust in a workforce is by introducing staff rostering systems that include options for flexible working.
The importance of this provision for parents was highlighted in a recent study by the Family and Childcare Trust.