How trusting in the vision of your organization’s leaders affects your Happiness at Work
It’s time for a quick history lesson. During the Wars of the Roses, a tumultuous time in British history when two houses fought for control of the English crown, the men leading the battles could be the difference between great success and crushing defeat. The great ones were feted and rewarded with wealth and power, whilst poor leaders would either die on the battlefield or be forgotten. And one of the things that made these leaders great was the full trust of those who were serving under them.
The importance of trust hasn’t diminished, although we’re hopefully a long way past carrying banners and pikes into battle. Even in the modern world, being able to trust your organization’s leaders is an essential part of your Happiness at Work. And it’s especially important given the developments in how people work: in the modern workplace, cross-functional teamwork, remote working, and “flat” structures mean that stronger bonds between employees and leaders are needed.
But how do you define all this? What does it mean when we say that trust in an organization’s leaders has several positive outcomes? The research generally agrees that trust isn’t instantaneous or assumed – it develops over time based on the attitudes and behaviors of an organization’s leaders and employees, and the relationship between them (Burke et al, 2007). And it’s related to concepts such as job satisfaction, engagement & employee well-being, with a focus on motivation and psychological capital (Lutterbie & Pryce-Jones, 2013).
So why is trust a good thing? Research shows that it’s strongly associated with Happiness at Work and, in turn, a number of positive work outcomes (Dirks & Ferrin, 2002). This includes a clear increase in performance (Bartam & Casimir, 2006; Rich, 1997) and citizenship (Podsakoff et al, 1990). However, (Dirks & Ferrin, 2002) found that the strongest association of all was with job satisfaction, which is greatly improved when you trust the vision of your organization’s leaders. And trusting leaders, as well as boosting Happiness at Work, increases time on task and decreases organizational turnover (Burke et al, 2007; Lutterbie & Pryce-Jones, 2013).
Research also shows an interesting difference in the effects of trusting your direct leaders to organizational leaders. Trusting direct leaders is correlated with increased satisfaction and innovative behaviour, and it can be argued that it has a stronger connection to Happiness at Work. But if you trust your organization’s leaders then your Happiness at Work is definitely increased, especially when it comes to your commitment and in a decreased intention to leave the organization.
What can leaders do to build trust?
If you’re a leader and want to build trust, here are a couple of things you can do to help. Firstly, you can practice positive leadership styles such as transformational leadership (Podsakoff et al, 1990; Podsakoff et al, 1996), authentic leadership (Clapp-Smith, Vogelgesang, & Avey, 2009), or positive role modelling (Rich, 1997). And secondly, you can also build trust by encouraging justice and fairness in the workplace. This requires you to have consistent rules, cohesive work groups, regular feedback, and providing interesting and challenging work (Cunningham & MacGregor, 2000). If you provide those elements then employees will both have a sense of security in their situation, but also have the confidence to try and challenge themselves to do more than usual (through challenging work paired with regular feedback).
What about our research?
Our research shows us that average trust in leadership seems to be affected by country and sector. The table below, which summarizes our data, suggests that people trust their leaders most in Colombia, Iceland and Mexico, and least in Italy, Egypt and Japan. And when it comes to the sector people work in, those in Police & Security, Banking and Food Service trust their leaders most, and those in Government trust their leaders least. And by quite a long way.
Trust in leadership by country
Trust in leadership by sector
|Country||Average Trust||Sector||Average Trust|
|Colombia||7.7||Police & Security||7.4|
|All scores normalized: 0 = min, 5 = database average, 10 = max|
|Minimum response cutoff for country/sector = 50|
Whilst most of the things we’ve been talking about in this blog series are interconnected in some way, trusting your leaders shares a lot of the same elements as the presence of a fair culture. And when the leaders of an organization are seen to be unfair, then that really erodes trust as well as causing the negative effects discussed in our article.
In our Founder Jess Pryce-Jones’ book, she looks at what you can do to build more trust in your organization. And her biggest recommendation has to do with your reliability and managing expectations. We all do it from time to time: we’re not going to meet a deadline, or don’t want to answer a difficult question, and so we ignore an email or dodge a phone call. But this sort of behavior hurts trust in you, and doesn’t help. If you’re not going to meet expectations, then telling people honestly in advance shows you in a better light than hiding it and having it revealed later. And the first thing to help with managing expectations is to set them realistically in the first place: don’t agree to something you don’t think you’ll be able to do.
Do you trust your organization’s leaders? If you think that there are things you could do more of and would like to speak to us about it, please do get in touch. And if there’s anything else you’d like to talk about which we’ve mentioned in this article or any of the others in this series (Loving your job, Having a voice, having interesting work, having a fair culture) then please do let us know.