The Vital Role of Trust in Employee Engagement


The 18th annual Edelman Trust Barometer was published on 29th January 2018, providing insight from 33,000+ respondents in 28 countries. The international study covered a range of themes and subjects this year – from the impact of social media and Donald Trump’s governmental changes in the US, to the effects of leadership and management in organisations across the globe.

Although the report opens with the assertion that trust has ‘stagnated’ (with little change since last year), the company’s CEO Richard Edelman shares a positive insight in the report’s introduction: ‘The employer is the safe house in global governance, with 72 percent of respondents saying that they trust their employer to do what is right.’

While that’s great news, Edelman says there are certain expectations of corporate leadership that can’t be overlooked if trust is to be improved in organisations everywhere. According to 64% of respondents, building trust should be top of the list for CEOs – ahead of ensuring products and services are high-quality, increasing profits and stock prices, and focusing on whether business decisions are reflective of company values.

The report also found that participants are less inclined to believe information from peers (or “a person like yourself”), compared to perceived ‘experts.’ Edelman describes this notable shift as ‘a change in the ecosystem of trust, which had become increasingly premised on peer-to-peer discussion.’ With a decline in trust in the media, trust in experts to lead the way is increasingly important.

Trust, leadership and employee engagement

In the report, the Edelman team states that ‘in order to feel safe delegating important aspects of our lives and well-being to others, we need to trust them to act with integrity and with our best interests in mind.’

We know that trust is a vital element of employee engagement – it forms the basis of the enablers of engagement, and is a two-way street, between employees and their leaders. It might sound cliché, but without it, there’s simply no foundation to build upon. As the Edelman report tells us, ‘trust […] is at the heart of an individual’s relationship with an institution and, by association, its leadership.’

One of the enablers of employee engagement is integrity; the concept that employees trust that their organisation will do as it says, living the values it promotes. During our recent Spotlight on the Employee Engagement Profession research, we found that just 13% of organisations were focusing their efforts in this area. Although our participants told us they weren’t disregarding the enablers (many were focusing on others, such as Strategic Narrative, Employee Voice and Line Managers), integrity fell to the bottom of the list.

The Engage for Success report to government (2009) listed four enablers of employee engagement, though we believe there’s a fifth enabler: involvement. This refers to the extent to which employees are personally involved in the success of the business, and the opportunities the organisation creates for employees to get involved with their company. Like the other enablers, trust is central to achieving this. Employees must trust their leaders to provide opportunities to involve them – just as leaders need to trust employees to embrace this personal involvement. Without trust, employee engagement can’t function, let alone thrive.

The importance of trust – from the experts

With this in mind, it came as no surprise that trust was a recurring theme in our 50 Top Tips for Engaging Employees ebook.

Our participants came from a range of roles, sectors and organisations, and shared tried-and-tested techniques to help readers achieve successful engagement. Download the ebook here to find out more about the role of trust in employee engagement – and if you’d like to share your thoughts, contact us any time via Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments section below.

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