Our annual survey showed that CEOs are more trusted than in previous years, closing the previously wide trust gap with line managers significantly. However,  there is evidently still clear room for further improvements in this challenging climate.

There are six dimensions of trust – ability, understanding, fairness, openness, integrity and consistency. CEOs have improved across all six, but especially on their understanding of the respondent’s role and what is involved in performing it effectively.

What we found

CEOs step up

Our research shows that the more distant an employee feels from their boss, the less likely they are to trust them. In the wake of the economic downturn, CEOs are taking a more hands-on approach. Rising to the challenge, they are visibly leading their organisations through a period of substantial change and upheaval. CEO's still lag behind line managers’, but the fact that line managers' scores have been fairly static over the last three years is a real cause for concern.

Gender and trust

We looked at CEO and line manager trust from a number of different perspectives. That includes gender and the size of the organisation. Women CEOs outperformed men on trust over the last two years. But the research shows that men have upped their game, as male and female CEOs now share the same trust index score of 66.

Some gender differences remain, however. Women are less likely than men to trust their CEO on understanding, fairness and openness. They trust line managers less on fairness. It suggests that women feel they are still not getting a fair deal in the workplace. 

Organisation size and trust

The increase in trust in CEOs and line managers is not evenly reflected across all sizes of organisation. As the size of the organisation (measured by number of employees) increases, trust scores decrease. Leaders in the largest organisations, where staying visible is toughest, must work hardest to build and maintain trust.

Public sector low on trust

There is cause for concern in the public sector, where CEOs are the least trusted of any sector. They receive the lowest scores across all six dimensions of trust. And the margin is growing as it seems public sector employees doubt the ability of their CEOs to get the job done given the pressures facing the public sector at the moment.

Our findings suggest a clear and pressing need for public sector employers to address the trust deficit that will hold back successful changes.

The importance of ethics


In the aftermath of the banking crisis, the BP oil spill and the phone hacking scandal, we also explored the relationship between ethics and trust. Ethical considerations are increasingly important for UK employees, and we expect this trend to accelerate. We were interested to see that those managers and CEOs considered  more ethical are also considered more trustworthy. This highlights a clear trust benefit attached to improving the ethical attitudes and approach of the organisation, the workforce, its managers and leaders.

Disappointingly, and significantly, 17% of public sector employees think their organisation operates less ethically today than three years ago.

The research suggests that organisations which drive ethics into the heart of their operations can obtain the additional bonus of a trust dividend. It is a dividend that feeds into employee engagement and workforce commitment, and thus improves organisational performance.

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