5 Reasons Why 57% of Employees Don’t Trust Their Leaders

Nick Davis is a Business Psychologist and Director at Davis Associates.  Davis Associates has helped clients around the world improve employee engagement levels, boost productivity, and create motivational leaders.

Have you ever wondered about the state of modern leadership? There are many published articles covering the importance of trust in a workplace, how distrust can cost your company, and how to improve trust levels within your business, but are you fully aware of just how many employees trust their managers?

Earlier this year, a study revealed that less than half US workers had confidence in senior leadership and that this level of trust has been steadily declining over the past two years. As business psychologists, we live and breathe leadership issues at Davis Associates, so we were fascinated by these results and decided to run our own leadership trust survey. Our poll revealed that 57% of employees have little to no trust in their leaders.

While this result might sound shocking at first, it is actually in line with the outcome of similar global surveys, indicating that the state of trust in leadership is not improving. We know the importance of trust in leadership. Harvard Business Review has stated that a high-trust culture is a “hard necessity”. Increased levels of trust can result in improved productivity, higher levels of engagement, and greater levels of discretionary effort. Yet despite these clear benefits, many leaders don’t appear to be putting measures in place to improve trust between them and their employees.

In light of these results, it is important to cover ways in which trust in leadership can be damaged and how leaders can turn this situation around. Trust is a complex issue that requires a lot of investigation, but you might be experiencing low levels of trust for the following reasons:

You don’t regularly communicate with your employees

Employees can’t trust their managers when they have no relationship with their managers. They need to know their leaders, become familiar with their values, and understand that the whole team is working towards the same objectives. This can’t happen if communication is infrequent and formal, as is the case for companies that rely solely on annual performance appraisals.

Leaders should take the time to develop a relationship with each and every employee, which will make a significant difference to employee engagement levels and overall trust. This can be done with the introduction of regular performance discussions. Companies all over the world are moving towards a more agile performance management system and they are seeing marked results. For example, Adobe was able to reduce voluntary turnover by 30%.  Remember familiarity breeds trust and if you have more frequent discussions, it is much more likely that your employees will feel comfortable approaching you for advice and support.

Earlier this year, a study revealed that less than half US workers had confidence in senior leadership and that this level of trust has been steadily declining over the past two years.


Your communications aren’t transparent, meaningful, and honest 

Of course, frequency of communication isn’t the only thing that matters; the quality and content of communication are equally critical. When you meet with your employees, is it simply a formal critique of their work over the last period, or is it a forward-thinking discussion that encompasses their progress, their contribution to the company, and how they can develop and advance?

Employees lose trust in their managers when they feel in the dark, neglected, or superfluous to needs. Take the time to explain that they are an important part of a well-functioning team. Be transparent regarding the direction of the business, and how their role helps to drive organizational objectives. Managers should also allocate time to discuss opportunities for advancement. This will show employees that you are invested in them, which will encourage feelings of security and trust.

Your company isn’t effective in terms of leadership selection 

Recruiting or promoting the wrong leaders can have a terrible impact on employee trust for a number of reasons. Employees might lose faith that the company fairly and thoughtfully promotes. If an ineffective candidate is hired externally, longstanding employees might feel passed over in favor of someone who doesn’t know the processes and ethos of a business. Perhaps it is becoming increasingly clear that a new manager isn’t up to the task and, as such, employees lose trust that the company can function properly at all.

Leadership selection is crucial in order to prevent poor management selection. Succession plans need to be put in place and carefully considered, and leadership development needs to be prioritized. On top of this, executive coaching should be offered to those at the top of the company, who might struggle with such a significant promotion and require support and encouragement. This will make them a better leader which will, in turn, encourage trust. 

Your employees feel they aren’t treated equally or fairly

Low levels of trust can arise as a result of a sense of injustice and a feeling of inequality. Question whether each and every employee is given the tools they need to improve, advance, and succeed.

Are they being given the support and training they require? Do managers spend equal amounts of time communicating with each employee, or are there clear favorites? In performance discussions, do you allow biases to creep in and overshadow proceedings? Is everyone on equal and fair pay? These are all questions to consider and important factors that can make the difference between a happy, trusting employee and a disengaged, disillusioned employee.

Your employees don’t feel you are invested in them

If your employees feel stuck in their roles, year after year, without opportunities to develop or advance, they are going to have low levels of confidence and hope in their company and leadership. In time, this will turn into low levels of trust. Employees won’t be optimistic about the future, they won’t see how things will improve, and they won’t believe that that management will step into help. Not only is this terrible for trust; it is awful for morale and employee engagement.

These days, employees are looking for learning opportunities when it comes to their careers. Invest in your staff, discuss areas, strengths, and skills they would like to improve and put a detailed personal development plan in place. Offer training and show employees what steps they need to take in order to climb the corporate ladder. Give them the tools they need to thrive and they will soon realize that you are on their side, which will greatly improve trust levels.

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