In a previous post, I considered what we mean when we talk about manager-employee trust. I also reviewed Right Management’s survey finding that over three quarters of all employees put a low level of trust in their manager. In this post, I want to continue the discussion with a review of what BlessingWhite’s 2010 survey on employee engagement has to say on this issue of trust.

By and large, the survey results indicate that employees are more likely to trust their immediate manager than senior leaders in their organization. In North America, for example, 72% of employees trusted their immediate manager. Levels of trust are similar in Australia/New Zealand and Southeast Asia (both at 71%). The highest levels of trust in immediate managers are seen in China (78%) and India (82%).

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for levels of trust in senior leaders. In some regions, the proportion of employees trusting senior managers/executive barely stretched to half. These regions include Australia/New Zealand (55%), Europe (51%) and North America (52%). Once again, the highest levels of trust are seen in China (65%) and India (75%).

Why is trust in immediate managers by and large stronger than trust in senior leaders? One important factor is the degree of interaction. It is generally easier to trust someone that you deal with day-to-day and on a personal level. An employee is more likely to appreciate the rationale behind a person’s actions if they communicate with them regularly. On the contrary, it can be more difficult to ascribe honorable motives to a “faceless” leader.

The lesson here is that senior leaders need to work harder to engender the trust of all employees. This means communicating clearly and often, asking for feedback and ensuring as much transparency as is possible without compromising competitive advantage by releasing commercially sensitive information.

Why is trust important anyway? The BlessingWhite survey found the more trusting an employee is in their managers, the higher their engagement level. Furthermore, the correlation between level of trust and degree of engagement is higher for senior leaders than for immediate managers. So, trust in senior leaders is more important and yet it is at a significantly lower level when compared with trust in immediate managers. This only reinforces my earlier point that senior managers need to do more to build levels of trust with their employees. How are trust levels in your organization? Are you measuring it? What are you doing in your organization today to improve trust relationships?

Strength of trust in managers correlates with employee productivity. In my next blog post, I will review what the BlessingWhite report suggests managers can do to lift employee performance in their organization.


Employee Engagement Report 2011 – Summary

Employee Engagement Report 2011 – Beyond the Numbers: A Practical Approach for Individuals, Managers, and Executives

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