The Importance of Employee Trust

Posted on December 12, 2014 by Don MacPherson.

Modern Survey’s Fall 2014 State of Engagement study found that trust in senior leadership is the top driver of engagement. Engagement levels are the highest they have been since Modern Survey began conducting the study in 2007, and so trust in senior leadership is taking on a renewed importance. Does your company have the level of trust it needs to engage employees and hold on to top leaders?

“Trust has to be earned,” says Eileen Timmins, global human resources expert and adjunct professor at DePaul University. “Senior leadership has to build it, and the best practice for building trust and communication is to walk the walk. Senior leaders have to be true to their words.” Employees model the behavior they see from their managers, and so if leaders make decisions and act in a way that earns trust, it will trickle down.

“There’s a cascading effect” when it comes to trustworthiness, says Dave Witt, engagement expert at The Ken Blanchard Companies. “Trustworthy leaders tend to have higher levels of trust in their teams and departments, while leaders that are untrustworthy tend to have similar problems in their teams and and departments. It’s extremely important that organizations address trust at high levels.”

Once trust is lost, it is hard to gain back. “Leaders may need to take a self-evaluation from time to time and see how they’re doing,” Witt says. In addition, the organization needs to be a safe space to have those kinds of discussions.

Liz Monahan, Quintiq’s global head of human resources, says that even if you have all the basics for a strong organization in place, your company will have a hard time building trust if there is not solid culture of leadership. “That leadership culture should be one where leaders consistently follow through on what is promised and if something is not going well, openly communicate what is going on as soon as it is known,” she says.

Provide examples of good, trustworthy leadership and recognize leaders who are behaving in a way that fosters trust in the organization, because good leadership might look different to different people, Witt says. Having concrete examples makes it easier for leaders to live up to expectations and teach others what the company wants.

Do not underestimate trust in senior leadership as a factor in your organization’s success. As companies look for ways to foster high engagement levels, trust in senior leadership will continue to be an important part of boosting engagement. Organizations that are seen as trustworthy by their employees will have a head start on keeping engagement levels high in the coming months.

To learn more about the current state of employee engagement, go to

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