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WHITE PAPER: Do you trust your boss?

In a recent survey carried out in June 2011, it was revealed that over a third of people questioned don’t trust their boss.

Figure 1: Do you trust your boss?

Why is trust so important in the workplace?

Whilst some employers might argue that it doesn’t matter whether or not their employees trust them, just that they fulfil their job requirements, there is actually a lot more at stake if trust is absent from the workplace.

A lack of trust is something that needs to be addressed urgently wherever it arises, especially in today’s economic climate where many employees already live in a state of anxiety about their employment future.

The same survey confirmed this by highlighting that 42% of those questioned don’t feel secure in their jobs (figure 2) – having a boss that they felt they could rely on in difficult situations would be likely to go some way to allaying their fears. In all regions surveyed, lack of trust in their boss and lack of job security very much went hand in hand (figure 3).


Figure 2: Do you feel secure in your job?

While there has been talk of ‘green shoots’ for the world’s economies, the current climate remains volatile with the financial crisis in Greece and the knock on effects from the American federal debt situation, acting as global examples that things have yet to stabilise.

From a UK perspective the recent banking crisis was a prime example of CEOs and leaders making decisions for their own benefit rather than for their customers and employees. Staff in the City felt that they had been ‘sold out’ by those at the top who took big bonuses and let people lose their jobs, therefore it is unsurprising that trust for bosses in London is the lowest in the UK (figure 3). The fact that 44% of staff in London don’t trust their boss and 46% don’t feel secure in their job goes hand in hand and backs up the impact that trust has on employee moral.

Figure 3: Brakedown of locations

Instability and fear is not unique to London though and the high rate of unemployment UK wide is also having an effect on people’s feelings about their work. Office of National


Statistics figures released in July 2011 show that in the second quarter of 2011 employment declined by only 26,000 which means that there are now 2.45 million people, or 7.7% of the workforce unemployed. With public sector redundancies due over the coming months, this figure will increase making it easy to see why people feel insecure and need reassurance from those in charge.

Apart from making employees feel secure in their place of work, there are many other benefits of promoting a trusting environment and building confidence, including fostering a positive atmosphere where staff feel that they are more invested in the success of their organisation and therefore more inclined to do their best to help the company succeed.

As well as the positive impact on staff morale, trust can encourage people to feel that the company is one where they want to stay long term, meaning that staff turnover is much lower. To maintain a low staff turnover is beneficial to businesses of all sizes as high turnover can be a serious obstacle to productivity, quality and profitability, with a large amount of time and money spent finding and training new staff.

The trust of your employees isn’t just vital for their peace of mind but it goes some way to reassuring customers and clients that you and your business are reliable. The annual Edelman Trust Barometer shows that trust has a tangible value when it comes to business. It argues that companies that are distrusted are often unlikely to weather crises. Whereas conversely it has been proven that if the public perceives your organisation to be trustworthy, it can diminish the impact that negative stories have on your business.

Transparency and trustworthiness are two of the most vital reputation factors according to Edelman. They believe that if your employee satisfaction is high, then your customer satisfaction should be too. If your employees are content then their productivity and quality of work should be high which will in turn lead to your customers being happy.

The Institute of Leadership and Management places such an emphasis on the importance of trust that they carry out an annual survey in association with Management Today magazine, called the Index of Leadership Trust.

The Index uses six key indicators to establish how employees feel about their CEOs and first level managers, these are;

• Integrity,

• Consistency,

• Ability,

• Understanding,

• Fairness,

• Openness.

This survey has shown that men and women have different priorities and values when it come to trust, which is backed up by findings which demonstrate that men are, on the whole, less trusting of their bosses, with 42% of men questioned saying that they don’t trust their bosses, in comparison to only 34% of women.

Age is also a big factor in trust, with more young people trusting their employers, a figure which reduces as people get older. From a cynical view point, this could be explained by the fact that those who have more experience of the work place have more reason to be mistrustful.

Figure 4: % of people who trust their boss.

How can trust be built up?

There is no quick win when it comes to building staff trust. It is a slow process that starts with mutual respect. Trust needs to come from the top down because no one is going to feel like they can trust you, if you don’t initially show your trust in them.

Leadership integrity is vital when it comes to building trust. A boss needs to establish their own integrity before expecting the same in others. This can be done by telling the truth, even in the most difficult of situations and leading by example. If you are asking people to do something that you yourself don’t do, then they are unlikely to believe that you are credible.

People cannot respect somebody that they don’t know. It is important to be visible and communicate with staff. This can be face to face, or in regular company updates, but visibility and good communication will give people more faith in you.

It is important to be positive wherever possible. Focus on the good things while being constructive about anything negative that needs improvement.

It may seem obvious but trust and respect go hand in hand, it is vital to treat people the same at every level of the company, show an interest in your staff and make sure that you know everyone’s names. You can also demonstrate your respect by doing small things like saying please and thank you.

Another simple step is to make sure that you listen to what your employees are saying. If they believe that they can come to you with issues and that when they do you will work with them, rather than against them, then trust will start to build. This will also have the added benefit of people coming to you with ideas and suggestions that might add real value to the company.

Wherever possible try to create opportunities for success. If your staff feel that they are part of a winning team thanks to an opportunity that you have given them, they will start to believe that you are all in things together. This will produce a team mentality where people feel included and are more likely to work well together.

Finally, if someone does something well, tell them there and then. This makes people feel valued and withholding praise fosters an atmosphere of mistrust and misunderstanding.

Things not to do

Be inconsistent. If you are constantly changing your mind and moving the goal posts then people will be wary of you and unlikely to feel trusting towards you.

Don’t overreact. Sometimes people make mistakes but if you overreact to them then your staff will be scared to tell you when things have gone wrong. By ensuring that your reactions are measured, people will try and come to you with solutions rather than problems. If you shoot the messenger, people will stop communicating with you.

Talk about your own personal successes. People will start to believe that you are only out for yourself and think that you are likely to take credit for their hard work and ideas.

Withhold information. If there is a lack of communication then rumours will start, which can lead to misinformation being delivered and cause senior staff to have to make denials. Denials are often disbelieved and once something has taken root in people’s minds it can be difficult to dislodge it.

Lie. This may seem obvious but if you are caught lying, even once, then your integrity will be permanently tarnished.

Create different work environments. If a senior managers’ environment is perceived as being better than the staff’s then this encourages resentment. This is not to say that all surroundings have to be identical but staff should work in an area that is comfortable and relaxed.

Be close minded. By considering everyone’s views, you show yourself to be approachable. However, if you dismiss suggestions and ideas out of hand then people will feel that you cannot be trusted.


There is no quick way to get your staff to trust you, you have to earn their trust by showing that it is not misplaced.

In this instance there is no truer adage than ‘actions speak louder than words’. It is not simply enough to tell your staff that they can trust you, you have to show them.

At a time when many companies are asking their staff to do more, in less time, with less support and for less money then workers should not just be satisfied but fully engaged.

Many employers simply don’t appreciate that being perceived as having high integrity and trustworthiness is actually hugely empowering. Ultimately, you can force people to turn up to work, but you can’t force them to do their best. If your staff trust you and have a belief in the company however, they are far more likely to drive your ideas through.

A trusting work place is one where engaged employees produce a high quality of work, top talent is retained and nurtured, a positive work culture feeds through to customer service and satisfaction and most importantly, you get results.

Ultimately, trust is fragile. It is difficult to build and easy to break so once created needs to be nurtured.

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