Senior managers in the public sector are in denial about low levels of trust in their organisations. This warning comes from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.
The CIPD survey of all sectors found that one in three employees rate trust in senior managers as weak, but those at the top have a rosier view. Trust between employees and senior managers appears to be particularly weak in the public sector, but strong in the voluntary sector.
More than one in three employees report that their level of trust in senior managers is weak while an overwhelming majority report that they trust in their colleagues and line managers to some or a great extent. The Institute is concerned about a counterproductive ‘them and us’ mentality breeding in too many of the UK’s workplaces.
‘Employee Outlook: Focus on trust in leaders’, is based on a survey of nearly 3,000 employees, across the private, public and voluntary sectors, in roles ranging from front line staff through to senior managerial roles. The survey also found that trust ratings increase with an employee’s seniority, with senior managers much more likely to report strong trust between employees and senior management.
Claire McCartney, research adviser at the CIPD and author of the report, comments: “There seems to be a real lack of awareness amongst senior managers, who rate the trust levels much stronger than more junior employees. It seems they either have a tendency to view things through rose tinted glasses, or are out of touch with how employees nearer the coalface are feeling. If senior leaders are in denial or burying their heads in the sand, there is a danger that a ‘them and us’ mentality will emerge and change will be very difficult to achieve.”
Employees report that trust is the third most important attribute in senior managers after competency and communication, and more than a third of employees also rate attributes such as openness and straight talking and honesty as important attributes.
Encouragingly, a high proportion of survey respondents think that trust is a factor when selecting leaders within their organisations, but, adds McCartney: “with such poor trust scores between employees and senior managers, we must question whether those responsible for hiring decisions are getting this process right. Selecting and developing trustworthy leaders is a complex area and one we are investigating further through our collaboration with Bath University.”
The good news from the survey is that creating a climate of trust is not rocket science. The majority of employees point to simple and effective practices such as ‘approachable’, ‘competent’ and ‘consistent leaders’ who ‘act with honesty and integrity’ and ‘lead by example’. They also admire leaders who ‘admit mistakes’ ‘consult on major decisions and ask for employee opinions’ and ‘treat staff fairly and with respect’.
Peter Cheese, CIPD chief executive comments: “Cultures of trust are vital if we’re to build sustainable and successful organisations. We know that people want to work in organisations with a strong sense of purpose and values, and that environments of mutual trust enable people to speak up so that good ideas can prosper and bad practice can be stamped out. Senior managers should try to tap into the strong levels of trust between colleagues and line mangers by observing what’s working well and increasing communications and transparency with frontline staff in order to close the inherent distance that exists between them.”