Fewer than half of American workers say they trust or have confidence in their senior management, the first time ratings have dropped below the 50 per cent mark in four years, according to a major new poll.
Just 49 per cent of the 12,205 full-time workers in the poll by consultancy Watson Wyatt Worldwide said they had trust and confidence in the job of senior management, against 51 per cent in 2004.
While this decline may seem small, dropping below the half-way mark is deemed psychologically important, particularly as most of the poll measures had been rising since 2002.
The poll also signalled a general wobble in other areas, with 53 per cent of workers believing management made the right changes to stay competitive, down from 57 per cent in 2004.
The percentage who thought senior management took steps to control costs had fallen to 55 per cent from 59 per cent.
And 55 per cent believed senior management behaved consistently with their company's core values, down from 57 per cent in 2004.
Two thirds of employees said they had confidence in their company's long-term success, down from 69 per cent, the poll also found.
"This dip in ratings is concerning because employees' attitudes about their senior leaders are a key factor in building engagement," said Ilene Gochman, national practice director for organisation effectiveness at Watson Wyatt.
"People want to work for companies where they have confidence in the organization and trust what senior management is doing.
"Fostering that trust is especially important in today's global market as it creates an environment in which employees understand that changes to the workplace may be necessary to remain competitive," she added.
The survey also found considerable disparities among companies in the frequency with which senior management communicated with employees.
A total of forty-three per cent of employees reported that their firm's senior management takes an active, visible role in communicating to employees, down from 45 per cent in 2004.
"Communication is often thought to be the direct supervisor's role," said Gochman, "but companies can create stronger teams and fuel excitement about the future if senior managers lay out the broad frameworks the firm will follow and supervisors reinforce that message. By engaging employees, such communication has a direct impact on the bottom line."
The survey concluded that highly engaged employees were much more likely to report receiving communication from senior managers at least once a month.
More than half of highly engaged employees said they received communication from senior management at least monthly.
In contrast, 42 per cent of low engaged employees said they received at best annual communication or no communication at all.