A simple apology increases trust

Nov 11 2013 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Does your boss ever apologise if he or she has made a mistake? According to a new survey, half of employees feel that their boss never or rarely apologises, a third complain that their boss rarely even acknowledges their mistakes and only around five per cent get an apology every time one is warranted.

But when the global survey by The Forum Corporation asked managers the same question, the response was starkly different. Half of bosses claimed they "always" apologise to employees for their mistakes, while a further four out of 10 (38 per cent) said that they "often" do. Sadly, only 19 per cent of their employees appear to agree with them, a disconnect that The Forum Corporation argues affects levels of trust in leaders as well as employee engagement.

When asked leaders why they were reluctant to apologise, the most frequent comments related to their image or reputation: seven out of 10 managers said that they are afraid of appearing incompetent, while three out of 10 are afraid of looking weak.

Yet managers not taking responsibility their mistakes has a direct correlation to how much employees trust company leadership, the survey suggests, with half of managers and a quarter of employees believing that acknowledging personal mistakes is one of the key things leaders can do to inspire trust.

While more than nine out of 10 of the employees surveyed said that being able to trust their boss was important to them, fewer than half (48 per cent) of managers felt that this was important. What's more, trust has been eroding over time, with a third of the employees surveyed saying that they trust their managers less today than they did in past years. And managers are even more cynical, with more than four out of 10 saying that employees trust their management less now than in the past. Overall, fewer than one in 10 employees said they trust their leaders "to a very great extent" today.

"When managers aren't transparent in their actions – and that includes accepting responsibility for errors, being truthful with their employees and acknowledging hard work – that tends to breed mistrust among employees," said Graham Scrivener, Managing Director of Forum EMEA.

"Lack of employee engagement is a huge issue among workers and our research found that employees who register low levels of trust at work, are also the most likely group to report low engagement."

In fact, the correlation between trust and engagement is a direct one, the survey found. The eight per cent of employees worldwide who trust their managers to "a very great extent" are also the most engaged while at the other end of the spectrum, the five per cent who don't trust their management at all are the least engaged.

The types of behaviours cited in the survey as undermining trust are familiar: lying, taking credit for others' ideas or blaming employees unfairly, gossiping, poor communication and a lack of clarity.

Similarly, the actions that both employers and employees agree can bolster trust - in addition to acknowledging personal mistakes – are equally familiar: listening to employees and understanding their concerns, walking the talk – managers doing as they say, following through on commitments and encouraging employees to offers ideas and suggestions.

Building trust pays off not only in the "soft" value of a happier workplace, the survey report concludes, but also in the hard results that stem from the distinct competitive advantage gained by tapping an enormous source of underused human potential.