The ripple effect of poor workplace trust

My latest research with over 2,000 employees shows that if there’s little trust in their immediate supervisor there is also low ratings for key workplace issues commonly shown to correlate to an efficient, effective, and emotionally and physically healthy workplace.

This negative ripple effect is from a research study I did with 2,123 employees doing a wide range of jobs for a large organization. Trust is a very valuable commodity in our personal life and the workplace. While there are several definitions of workplace trust the research “literature” shows that trust is an amalgam of at least the following in those we judge to trust: They show expertise, competency, have a positive track record, have excellent communication skills, often share our personal values, and are reliable.

In my research I separated those employees who rated the level of trust in their immediate supervisor as good/very good  from those who rated trust levels as poor/very poor. Then I compared how the two groups rated the following key workplace factors: Being recognized for a job well done, having their gender respected, having their ethnicity respected, receiving constructive feedback, having an emotionally safe workplace, having good conflict management, having their opinions sought, and employee morale.

In this particular organization the overall weighted average of good/very good trust in an immediate supervisor was 3.96 out of 5.0 and the weighted average of poor/very poor levels of trust was 1.44 out of 5.0.

As the graph below shows, the 396 employees who rated trust in their immediate supervisor as “poor” (1.44 / 5.0) also rated key workplace issues as particular poor. Lack of trust in an immediate supervisor translates into poor ratings for conflict management, employee morale, respect for gender and ethnicity and what employees consider to be an “emotionally safe” workplace where they feel secure to discuss their emotions and feelings. The opposite is true for trusted supervisors.

chart showing trust and relation

A very important finding is that all the above measures are strongly correlated to having a trusted supervisor. They also do not exist in silos of existence. Each of the above measures are interconnected at moderately strong to strong correlations. Which means a change in one factor means a change in another.

So what? The “so what” is that regardless of organizational structures and their enabling systems and processes, the quality of supervision is absolutely key to a workplace. However the reality is that while in many cases quality supervision can be taught, in other cases it cannot. Human attitudes are very difficult to change regardless of what superficial changes in behavior may show. Which proves the huge value in organizations picking the right people in the first place.









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