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The Importance of Trust at Work – 2: Trusting Your Bosses

Reading Time: 4 minutes

What do romantic relationships have in common with the relationship between a working professional and their employer? They both have to be built on trust in order to run smoothly. Last week, we introduced our two-part series on trust in the workplace. Today, it’s time to look at things from the employee side and shine a light on the importance of trusting your bosses.

The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer has found that a quarter of workers worldwide don’t trust their management, compared to 27% in the UK specifically. While this is a significant improvement over the 2018 survey (57% of employees did not trust their management), trust in the workplace is still a major issue. According to the PwC Annual Global CEO survey in 2014, only 37% of CEOs expressed concern about distrust in the workplace, but by 2017, that figure had risen to 55%. If we are experiencing overall improvement, it is arguably because of this rising level of focus on the issue. But there is still much further to go.

There are a variety of reasons a working professional might distrust their manager, and today we’ll be working our way through them to help you understand what causes an employee/employer relationship to break down.

A lack of support at work erodes trust

Issues of trust in the workplace can stem from employees feeling they aren’t being given enough support to manage stress, or professional training to advance in their careers. Workers want to believe that their employer has their best interests at heart, but if you aren’t being given the help and feedback you need, or opportunities to develop as a professional, your loyalty to the company is absolutely going to suffer.

In 2018, a survey by the independent charity Health @ Work found that the majority of employers failed to meet basic standards of mental health support for their employees. On top of that, they found that although 93% of employers rate workplace wellbeing as an important issue, over a third of companies have no support system in place for their staff. We need to start practicing what we preach.

According to Dr Barbara Mariposa, an associate of the workplace wellbeing group, Work Well Being, says stress and musculoskeletal problems are connected to poor mental health, and are the two largest causes of workplace absenteeism.

‘What many people don’t realise is that the biggest proportion of these issues are attributed to “presenteeism” – turning up at work when you are ill, and/or underperforming because of stress, long hours, excessive workloads, lack of control and poor working relations. All of these factors are precursors to mental ill-health, which has a massive cost at a personal level before we even talk about the costs to business. Low morale, more errors, reduced productivity, lack of trust, conflict, long-term absence, litigation, recruiting new staff – the list is long.’

And mental health issues aren’t the only area where employees can feel they aren’t being supported. A lack of career support and professional training can lead to massive staff turnover. A report on workplace activity by Global Talent Monitor found that 40% of departing employees cited lack of future career development as a “dissatisfying factor” to their job, with more than a quarter actively seeking new employment.

Research by Gartner HR Practice Group has shed some light on this issue. Their study shows that since 2008, many companies have simplified their corporate structures by reducing the amount of middle management roles, resulting in fewer opportunities for progression.

According to Gartner HR Vice President Brian Knopp, ‘Attrition has always been costly for companies, but in many industries the cost of losing employees is rising, due to tight labour markets and the increasingly collaborative nature of jobs. If employees don’t see you investing in their future with you, they’re going to look somewhere else.’

Managers who don’t know what they’re doing

Here in Britain, complaining about your manager is practically a national sport. If they ever put it in the Olympics, we’ll take gold every time. The fact is that ineffective management can be one of a professional’s biggest concerns going into a new, unfamiliar workplace. The 2019 CIPD annual Health and Well-Being at Work Survey Report found that 37% of UK businesses have seen an increase in stress-related absences due to poor management and overwork in the last year. Over four-fifths of the survey’s respondents said they had witnessed “presenteeism.” Two-thirds had witnessed staff using holiday time to catch up on work, and 55% said their employers had done nothing to address the issue.

“Skills First: Connecting employers, further education and training,” a white paper by CMI, highlights the fact that lack of proper management training has become a major issue in the UK. The vast majority of employers have struggled to recruit professionals with key management skills. 70% are not giving first-time managers the proper training, and in 2015, a quarter of all job openings were left vacant due to employers being unable to satisfy their recruitment criteria. The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills has found that loss of productivity due to poor management and leadership costs the UK economy approximately £19bn a year.

The only way to overcome this is through investment in proper management training initiatives. According to Petra Wilson, CMI’s Director of Strategy, schemes like the Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship launched a few years ago will create a “large influx of professionals undertaking the proper training”, and that “employers must be ready for that”.

‘There are huge opportunities for education and training providers to deliver the programmes employers want to grow their people and boost their performance. Employers will need 1.9 million new managers by 2024, which means that top of their shopping list must be management and leadership apprenticeships.’

Of course, there are plenty of other things that can negatively affect an employee’s trust in their management. The umbrella of office politics encompasses a lot of workplace issues, from sexism to favouritism. The former especially deserves several articles to itself. But both of these problems stand to benefit from some of the same solutions as the issues we have discussed in this article. More investment in management training schemes and the use of modern platforms to improve the flow of mutual feedback in organisations will enable workplace leaders to self-reflect and optimise their approach in order to maximise team productivity.

Research Associate