Trust underpins effective working relationships. The more someone trusts a colleague, manager or team member, the greater the likelihood they will co-operate, share information and work effectively together.

Why trust matters

By increasing trust levels in organisations, employers can drive significant improvements in performance by motivating staff to commit additional discretionary effort. It helps businesses to both take and manage risks safely and allows leaders to try new things, essential if an organisation wants to grow and develop. 

This research explores the current state of trust in business, identifies the most powerful drivers of trust and asks what organisations and individual managers can do to improve this increasingly crucial commodity.

The five fundamentals of trust

The research highlights five fundamental skills and  qualities that leaders need in order to be trusted. The most important driver of trust is openness –
70% of respondents to the survey rank it as one of their top three drivers of trust. This is followed by effective communication (53%), the ability to make decisions (49%), integrity (48%) and competence in their role (42%). 

The importance of relationships

Managers typically trust their direct reports most highly – those with whom they have a vertical and structured relationship. They trust their colleagues less,
and their own manager least for being open and honest and keeping commitments. Trust for managers varies between either very high trust or very low trust, with fewer responses in the neutral middle ground. 

Seniority drives trust

As managers progress through the ranks in their organisations, they typically become both more trusting and more trusted. Senior managers have
the highest levels of trust in their organisation (49% net high trust) compared to middle managers (38%), and senior leaders also express higher levels
of trust in their own manager, teams and colleagues across a range of factors when compared to middle management colleagues.

Large organisations suffer most

The research reveals that employees in the largest  organisations report the lowest levels of trust, with managers in organisations of over 1,000 staff reporting just 27% net high trust. Those working in the smallest organisations of under 50 employees, where managers and senior staff are more likely to be in direct contact, displayed the highest level of trust across the group – 58% net high trust in their organisation.

Younger managers most positive

The youngest managers, the millennial generation (born in 1981 onwards), are the most likely to say they trust everyone or almost everyone in their organisation (54%), followed by baby boomers (those born between 1946–1964), almost half of whom (45%) say they trust everyone or almost everyone. Generation X, those born between 1965–1980, have the lowest level of respondents saying they trust everyone or almost everyone (44%) they work with.

Sectors in trouble

The research reveals a pronounced difference in trust levels across different industries and sectors. The public sector is suffering from a trust shortfall, with just 29% net high trust compared to the private (45%) and third (46%) sectors, suggesting that the budget cuts, wage freezes and mass redundancies experienced have had a real impact on trust levels. Over one in 10 (12%) public sector managers say they trust ‘absolutely no one’ or ‘very few’ people in their organisation.


Organisations wishing to establish or improve trust can do so by focusing on the five fundamentals – openness, communication, decision-making, integrity and competence. Developing these skills in your managers and leaders will drive a more effective and productive organisation. A focus on these five fundamental skills is particularly important among first line managers and the middle managers who manage them. 

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