What level of trust have you built with your team?

Oct 24th, 2023


As trust in politicians and the media declines, employees are placing greater emphasis on the trust they have in their employers and leaders. Understanding what your people want from you in order to win their trust and commitment, and the responsibility that brings with it, is essential for business leaders and is key to recruiting, developing, and retaining talent.

For the last few years, global communications firm Edelman has undertaken a global survey of employees to measure ‘trust’, questioning a cross-range of 1000 employees in each of the following countries: UK, Germany, Brazil, US, India, Japan and China. (a link to the full report is at the end of this article)

Trust from your employees correlates to the success of the business. How do you manage that trust to build better teams?

Here I have highlighted some of the key findings of the report, and take a look at what they mean for you as a leader and the culture you are creating…

The responsibility of trusted leaders

Being a trusted employer brings with it great responsibility. The gap between the trust level of employees to their employers and other institutions is growing. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer there was an 18 point gap in 2021, with 78% of people trusting their employers and only 60% trusting other institutions. In 2023 this has risen to a 23 point gap.

This increased trust brings a rise in expectations in everything from career advancement and personal advancement, to societal impact. 71% expect their employers to reflect their values, have a positive impact on society and have leaders that speak up about important issues.  

Leaders may be split over the topic of flexible working, but 72% of employees believe it is more important than ever that their leaders rethink what work means to their teams. This is driven by 67% who say they are re-evaluating how they spend their time. Employees want a work-life reset in some form. Tackling employee burn-out is a good starting place.

As part of my work with an executive who was new to the business, I spent time talking to the executive and his CEO, both very driven individuals. It was heartening to hear the CEO talk openly to his team member about the responsibility he felt as his manager to help ensure that there was a sensible balance achieved between work and home life. The executive had recently had a child, which they acknowledged would impact his sleep, and had also reduced his exercise regime in a bid to ensure the first 6 months of his new job were successful. They discussed the need to put back in place the foundations that would keep him healthy and the CEO recognised that he had a responsibility in making sure his own drive to succeed did not put too much pressure on a young man that was equally driven.

Does your team trust that you have their best interests at heart?

What do you do to demonstrate that you care and value them?

Use the power of Generation Z

Gen Z is expected to make up 27% of the workforce by 2025, so it is no surprise that young workers are having an impact on company culture.

The Trust Barometer found that 93% of employees feel that colleagues in their twenties have influenced their attitude towards key work culture issues. These include openness to new technologies, aspects related to work-life boundaries and the desire for employer involvement in societal issues. In fact, 61% reported that younger colleagues have influenced them in being more willing to speak up to leaders about changes that could improve the culture and retention.

Reverse mentoring is becoming increasingly popular for leaders to engage with and learn from younger team members.

Real Estate Balance, a campaigning organisation working to improve diversity and inclusion in the real estate industry, recently ran a reverse mentoring ‘speed dating’ event. It saw leaders from across the property sector spending time having short mentoring sessions with those at the start of their careers. The leaders involved acknowledged that often they make decisions that impact their younger colleagues without actually asking what they want.

One CEO I work with has made it mandatory for every member of the executive team to mentor a Gen Z colleague. They appreciate the value that both parties can gain from this.  For the CEO it wasn’t just about mentoring, it was also a way of influencing the mind-set of the executive team by understanding the ideas and needs of this generation that could impact the future of the business.. Many of the biggest businesses now have formalised reverse mentoring schemes in place, including Heineken, PwC, Caterpillar and Unilever.

Businesses are appreciating the positive impact that younger team members can have in putting forward innovative ideas when it comes to key decision making.

A UK and European wide consultancy has an active Junior Board that meets monthly and is chaired by someone from the executive team. The Junior Board is made up of a cross section of people from across offices and service teams and rotates twice a year. It is given specific business critical questions and tasked with coming up with answers that are presented to the executive team. When asked how the company can prioritise staff retention and reward longevity, the Junior Board put forward a ‘loyalty scheme’ that gives staff reward options at different milestones – 1 year, 3 years, 5 years, 8 years, 10 years and 15 years. This can be as simple as choosing a manager to have lunch with, spending a week in another office (nationally or internationally) up to providing a paid family holiday and sabbaticals for longer service.

Having a junior board is giving a voice to a group that is often more diverse that the executive board. Getting the best from it comes down to the quality of questions asked to them so they are business critical. And trust is built when those members can see the impact of their input with the actions taken.

What infrastructure do you have in place for new ideas to come forward?

What are the quality of the questions that you are asking?

Align action with values

Three quarters of employees who responded to the trust survey stated that when considering a job, they want to have the opportunity to do work that will shape the future in some meaningful way. Likewise, 61% said that they expect their CEO to speak publicly about social issues they care about.

For leaders, it isn’t good enough just talking about the principles that are important to a company, they have to be seen actively trying to make an impact on those issues.

John Lewis built its 2022 Christmas advert campaign around the social issue of children in care. In October this year it launched the first of its ‘Made with Care’ product line, a selection of items all designed by employees who grew up in the care system.

Employees want to see their leaders doing what they say they will. Not just on the big issues though, but on areas of personal development too.

A client who had become disillusioned in her current role had been looking to leave. She was convinced to stay by being given a three year career plan, but within months was already seeing some of the goalposts changing. She addressed this with her CEO, who she trusts, and was reassured that even if the path varies, the end aim of her becoming part of the global executive team remains. When there is a difference between what has been said and what is being done, people will naturally distrust, but if the level of trust is sufficient and leaders are transparent, people will be patient, understand and go with it.

UK supermarket Iceland is widely regarded as being one of the best places to work, with a culture based on family values. Executive chairman Richard Walker has spoken before of the high level of staff retention they have, but also of how they use the employment opportunities they have to positively impact society. One example of this is its ex-offender recruitment scheme, overseen by a director of rehabilitation who, as a former offender himself, has the role of recruiting people to work in its stores and warehouses.

What voice do you have on social issues that inspire and involve your team?

What actions have you taken that demonstrate this? 


With fewer role models in politics and the media, the trust held in you as a leader is of growing importance. People join companies and leave managers, so what are you doing to build and maintain trust within your team and business?

If you would like to read the full Edelman Trust Report, you can find it here.


Oona Collins works with leaders and their teams who want to achieve great things. If you are looking to create exceptional levels of engagement and performance in your leadership team, contact Oona to begin a conversation at team@potentialplus-int.com.

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