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Trust in CEOs falls among employees.

A report by The Institute of Leadership & Management has suggested that employees trust their CEOs less than they did seven years ago. The study also revealed that the most trusted senior leaders work in the financial services sector and that female leaders and managers are more trusted than their male counterparts.

Released today, the Trust in Leaders report reveals the levels of trust in British leaders and managers, and how it has changed over the last seven years.

  • Overall, trust in CEOs has fallen overall by eight per cent since 2011.
  • CEOs in the financial services sector are the most trusted senior leaders, while those in local and national government are the least trusted.
  • Female leaders at all levels are more trusted than their male counterparts.
  • Trust in line managers has been maintained.

The Institute of Leadership & Management has carried out research into business trust since 2009* to see how employees perceive the trustworthiness of organisations and their bosses.  Using an overall trust score out of 100 across seven dimensions of trust (ability, understanding, fairness, accessibility, openness, integrity and consistency), The Institute surveyed more than 800 leaders and managers to assess whether the levels of trust had changed since the last research was carried out in 2011.

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The 2018 findings revealed workers trust their CEOs considerably less than they did in 2011. Compared to 2011, the results show trust in CEOs has fallen by eight per cent. Respondents noted the biggest performance failing for CEOs was understanding the role of their employees and the contributions they make. Despite this, the financial services sector should be buoyed by the results; of all the sectors researched, financial services leaders are considered the most trusted, followed closely by those in the health sector. By comparison, the least trusted CEOs work in local and national government, closely followed by engineering/manufacturing and education.

At a time when gender equality regularly hits the headlines and there is insufficient diversity in FTSE boardrooms, more respondents said they trusted female leaders and female line managers than their male counterparts. However, both male and female leaders perform poorly in accessibility, openness, consistency and understanding the roles of their staff.

“With a decline in trust being a recurring theme reported in the media – against the backdrop of organisations going into administration and falling rates of productivity – CEOs are so much more high profile than they used to be,” said Kate Cooper, head of research, policy and standards at The Institute of Leadership & Management. “Headlines about high levels of CEO remuneration, putting their own interests over those of the company and, most importantly, their employees, haven’t helped the situation, so it’s not surprising levels of trust have fallen over the last few years.

“Our research clearly shows there is a lack of trust at the top level, but interestingly, it is being maintained at the more personal level of line manager,” she added. “This is bad news for CEOs and should be a wake-up call for them. For any organisation to be successful, trust is not ‘a nice to have’, but is intrinsic to the culture of the organisation. The more someone trusts a colleague, manager or team member, the greater the likelihood that they will collaborate, share information and work effectively together. Trust helps organisations to run smoothly, increases engagement, improves processes, drives individual and team performance, ultimately benefitting the customer or service user. The more CEOs are trusted, the more likely employees are to believe in their ability to navigate the organisation through difficult times of economic uncertainty, such as those we are experiencing with Brexit.”

The Institute is currently working with the University of Birmingham exploring the sort of leadership development interventions that are needed in the public services to ensure a pipeline of great leaders are ready to face a challenging future.

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