Trust in UK businesses has still not recovered the impact of the 2008 global financial crisis, according to a report released today by Westminster Business School, University of Westminster, in collaboration with Top Banana and the Institute of Internal Communication.

The report reveals that just one in four members of the public trusts business leaders to do the right thing, one in five believes they will tell the truth, and over half (54 percent) think that business greed is the main driver behind innovation. It highlights the critical role of improved communication from business leaders in repairing this broken trust.

Katalin Illes, principal lecturer in leadership and development at Westminster Business School, and co-author of the report said:

“Continuously declining levels of trust in society indicate that we are not relating to each other in the right way. Humans are social creatures and past and present findings confirm that strong, supportive communities have higher survival rates and prosper more. This is also true of business communities.

“Because a person’s trust depends a lot on context, trust in a business leader is largely based on trust in line managers and the company itself, which is based on its values, behaviours, procedures and perceived fairness.”

The report, which draws on recent academic and mainstream research in the areas of leadership, trust and communication highlights the radically evolved role of leadership in the 21st century, the fact that many leadership communication approaches are completely unfit for purpose and presents, supported by extensive evidence, what a successful, trustworthy leader looks like in modern day British business.

It also highlights the central role of middle management, as well as overall organisational culture, including performance management, training and policies and procedures that are deemed to be fair, in driving or destroying trust in organisations.

Nick Terry, Managing Director at Top Banana, who specialises in leadership events and communication and who commissioned the report, said:

“The presence of trust in an organisation has a considerable impact on the performance of that organisation. From better cooperation and more effective problem solving, to a positive work climate and employee engagement, the benefits of a trusting workplace are both well researched and understood by HR professionals.

“When building trust inside a company, leaders have to not only manage their relations with employees but also the relationships employees have with the organisation, involving factors such as job security, performance management and training structures. A shared values system and resulting clear norms of behaviour are therefore vital cogs in building a trusting organisational culture.”

Steve Doswell, Chief Executive of the Institute of Internal Communication, who also collaborated on the report added:

“Trust is essential. Without it social groups cannot function properly. It’s true on any scale, from individual families to the international community and it’s certainly true of businesses and all employer organisations.

The value of this report for HR practitioners with responsibility for communication is that it explains with academic rigour the unbreakable connection between leadership, communication and trust, it provides powerful arguments to make the case for trust-building communication styles, methods and behaviours and it provides a suite of practical insights to start supporting your company’s leadership on building trust in your organisation today.”

Download the report here.