Employee-employer trust is one of the most valuable yet scarce assets in business. It's trust that lets you confidently leave a staff member to lock up at the end of the day instead of having to stick around and do it yourself.
Trust must work the other way, too. Your employees want to trust in their employer - trust you know how to steer the business effectively, that they'll be treated well, and that they'll be paid promptly each month!
Unfortunately, new figures suggest that 43% of UK employees don't trust the company that employees them. This figure is worse than the global average of a third.
Distrustful employees aren't good news for your company. They'll be less engaged than other employees, more likely to look for work elsewhere, and might even bad-mouth your brand to friends and family.
More to the point, if a high percentage of your employees don't trust your company, then it suggests there are significant problems with leadership - and their actions - that need to be addressed, unless you'd like the problems we mentioned above to continue.
The Edelman Trust Barometer survey also asked respondents about 16 trust-building attributes of leaders. They were asked to rate each attribute on how important they were for building trust, and then to rate how they perceived CEOs to perform against these attributes.
Respondents deemed these as attributes as the most 'trust-building':
- Takes responsible actions to address an issue or crisis
- Treats employees well
- Exhibits highly ethical behaviours
- Behaves in a way that is transparent and open
- Listens to customer needs and feedback
- Places a premium on offering high-quality products or services
- Places customers ahead of profits
- Communicates frequently and honestly on the state of their company
The list shows that engagement and integrity tend to be the most important areas of leadership when it comes to building trust.
Now let's look at how well CEOs performed against these desired attributes.
Out of the list of attributes above, CEOs were best at placing a premium on high quality products - with 34% of respondents stating that CEOs tended to show this behaviour.
That figure seems paltry, but when we look further down the list, only 23% of respondents said CEOs placed customers ahead of profit and communicated frequently and honestly. 24% thought that CEOs exhibited highly ethical behaviours and behaved in a transparent way.
These figures are shocking - it seems that the typical consumer (and employee) must hold a very poor opinion of CEOs.
A CEO is often the public figure that represents the business. They're a figurehead. If employees don't trust them, they're not going to act as brand advocates - they might even dissuade others from using your brand.
Another interesting finding from the Edelman report was that trust in the company decreases as you go further down the hierarchical ladder. Executives trust their company more than managers, who trust the company more than non-managerial employees.
This may be due to the increased amount of information held by those at the top of the chain.
Employees lower down in the business may be more sceptical about the motivations and plans of those at the very top. Perhaps it's common sense - but this fact should serve as a reminder that there's much to be gained by improving communication between different layers of your business.
Building trust is a challenge for all businesses, but smaller businesses are in a much better position to tackle the issue. There are fewer layers of bureaucracy for messages to get through. The boss isn't an office on the other side of the Atlantic, they're working just across the room.
Employees can raise concerns directly with the CEO, rather than having to speak to their supervisor who has to speak to their boss who has to speak to their boss, and so on.
What do you make of this survey's findings? To read the full report, head to the Edelman website.