This morning over breakfast I read an article titled, “Study: Employees’ Trust in Leaders Has Declined” from the Society of Human Resources which was released in July 2011. 

As an HR professional, my wheels began to spin…certainly there is a documented correlation in organizations between trust and rapport. This reminded me of a book I read some time back declaring that organizations with low trust oftentimes suffer from not having a value based culture and they generally fall into one of two camps, either a blind obedience culture or an informed acquiescence culture.

Furthermore, the figures quoted from the survey findings caused me to consider all the ripple effects in organizations due to employees’ lack of trust in their leaders. The article shared that, “Only 8 percent of employees say they are frequently recognized for demonstrating behavior consistent with their company’s stated values.”

Surely employees’ self-esteem and development would suffer, as I imagine employees aren’t encouraged to grow.  Additionally, they most likely aren’t taking the time to recognize employees as it appears if the basic foundation of trust doesn’t exit they wouldn’t be relating. Also, creativity and innovation would most likely cease to exist.  I imagined the abundance of performance concerns, let alone the future staffing and workforce planning concerns.

Some of the other startling findings from the survey that the author, Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR shared were:

“14 % reported they believed that their company’s leaders are ethical and honest. 12 % believe their employer genuinely listened to and cared about their employees. 10% said they trust management to make the right decision in times of uncertainty. 7 % said that senior management’s actions are consistent with their words.” I don’t know how these results measure up to past survey findings, but they seemed really grim to me.

Furthermore, there were several figures around the lack of alignment between employee values and those of the organizations. The author went on to share how the survey respondents’ values and organizational values can impact engagement levels.

This article screamed engagement and the importance of culture! It is time to expect more and for employees to demand more from their leaders. As you read this and reflect on some of the findings from the survey, what comes to your mind around future concerns around the leaders’ perceived ethical and honest traits/characteristics?

What about the findings around employees feeling like they are not listened to or cared about? Cranky, surely if your employees don’t feel listened to and cared for, imagine the customers! This is all about employee relations aspects, what are your employees good at and love to do, how often do they use their strengths, how often are you seeking their input for change, how are you recognizing them, how are you helping them to succeed, grow, etc. How could an organization expect employees to give to their communities and build CSR with results like this? I wonder what approaches the leaders are using, perhaps could it be one of the most common mistakes of the one-size fits all?

What about communications aligned to the trust aspect of leaders making decisions?  Clearly they aren’t engaging with change focused leadership and getting ideas percolating from the bottom-up. What are some of the habits of trustworthy leaders that you have witnessed and admired which increased trust with decision making?

The number from the survey around leader’s actions and the lack of alignment with their words…well that simply brought back some visuals from the movie, “Horrible Bosses.”

For those of you who are HR leaders, what tools and actions come to your mind to positively increase the reported engagement data? What are your concerns about the future impact of the figures stated?

Source: Hastings, Rebecca R. “Study: Employees’ Trust in Leaders Has Declined.” SHRM. (7/25/2011).




One Response to Employees’ Trust in Leaders

  1. What a thought-provoking post! I wish I could say that the study results surprise me, but everyday I meet folks who share experiences that align with what these statistics show.

    For me, it brings to mind something we talk about often in our work: “Leaders work on themselves first, and their people second.” We remind people of the instructions the flight attendant gives on the plane, “Secure your own mask first before helping those around you.”

    Although I’m often reminded of the leadership crisis that exists in many organizations, I also have the pleasure of meeting and working with many leaders who make a difference daily – leaders who empower and support, leaders who constantly strive to improve themselves, and leaders who are ethical and trustworthy.

    I remind myself every day of the words spoken by Napoleon Bonaparte, “A leader is a dealer in hope.” As a leader, I strive to share my hope every day that the future is bright and that there is tremendous untapped leadership potential within each person I encounter.

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