Infographic Forum Global Pulse Leadership survey

Only 5% of UK employees and 3% in EMEA get an apology from their boss whenever they make a mistake, which is affecting levels of trust in leaders and employee engagement according to a global survey by The Forum Corporation. 

Forum’s Leadership Pulse survey { #trustgap} found that 49% of staff claim their boss never or rarely  apologise, yet in contrast, nearly 60% of UK managers believe they always say sorry –  suggesting that leaders are mishandling mistakes at work or not communicating properly. Attached is an infographic to illustrate the disconnect between staff and managers.

Managers who choose to ignore their workplace missteps are afraid of tarnishing their image. 71% of managers say they refrain from asking for forgiveness for fear of appearing incompetent, while 29% are afraid of looking weak. According to Forum’s survey the most egregious examples of bad boss behaviour include, in order:

  • Lying,
  • Taking credit for others’ ideas or blaming employees unfairly,
  • Gossiping,
  • Poor communication
  • Lack of clarity

Managers not taking responsibility for workplace gaffes is having a direct correlation to how much employees trust company leadership. 49% of managers and 24% of employees believe that acknowledging personal mistakes is one of the key things leaders can do to inspire trust; and being able to trust your boss today is very important for 93% of the employees surveyed.

But with 33% of employees claiming that their bosses rarely even acknowledge their own mistakes, the workplace today has become more treacherous. 30% of UK staff say they trust managers less today, compared to past years. Leaders had an even more cynical view than the employees, with 38% of managers saying that employees trust their managers less now than in the past. Overall, less than 5% percent of 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 UK 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.”

The study found that whilst trust in the UK workplace has suffered in recent years, there are certain actions that both employers and employees agree can bolster trust in addition to acknowledging personal mistakes. According to the survey, the four most effective tactics for inspiring trust are:

  • Listening to employees and understanding their concerns
  • Walking the talk – managers doing as they say
  • Following through on commitments
  • Encouraging employees to offers ideas and suggestions

Joe Rafferty of the Scottish Children´s Reporter Administration has a view about bosses who can´t say sorry: “Little kids find it difficult to say sorry because they feel that it is simply an admission of guilt, with associated humiliation, rather than a route to reconciliation. For an adult saying you’re sorry can be a sign of decency, confidence and maturity. Decency, because you show you care enough about the other person to offer an apology. Confidence, because you know that your reputation is strong enough to withstand an admission of wrongdoing. And maturity because, unlike the child, you understand that an apology is often prerequisite for forgiveness and reconciliation. All in all the survey would seem to suggest that at least some of the UK’s bosses could do with a backbone. Of course if you find you are constantly saying sorry then you might want to consider that perhaps it’s something else that’s missing.”

Christine Keates Lewis FCIPD, HR Partner of Tuffin Ferraby Taylor comments: “Staff have indicated that they are unlikely to trust a Partner who does not admit when they have got something wrong, particularly if this implies blame attaching to others. There is high risk in leaders who try to disguise failure, or pursue a failing course because they do not feel that they can go back on something they have instigated. A recent interview on Radio 4 with Alan Greenspan stated that just prior to the recent recession he couldn’t admit failures were going on as he was such an important financial leader it would upset the markets. We all know what happened next.

“On a more local level, bosses need to be accountable for their decisions and actions, earn the respect of their teams by doing so, and act as role models in leadership. ‘Learning from failure’ has become a bit of a cliché but pays dividends when it happens.  Dishonest management disengages employees, and reduces commitment with poor outcomes for a firm. Who goes the extra mile for someone they do not respect or trust?

“Fear of litigation is a key thread running through current stories in the press on NHS funding for example, and the vast costs of insurance cover now needed to reflect increased propensity to litigate in the face of human failings, in this understandably sensitive area where suffering and loss of life may result. Investment in sufficient resources and expertise vs protecting financial resources from claims is no doubt an unwelcome challenge.”

Lyndon Wingrove, Director of Capabilities and Consulting, Thales Training & Consultancy says: “These statistics seem to hold true to the traditional managers’ perception of themselves as all-knowing and infallible. A lot of managers want to be liked by their juniors, and too many try to achieve this by attempting to impress them. Respect is a more important factor in the relationship. Everyone makes mistakes, and those managers that are able to demonstrate that they are not perfect exhibit to their juniors a high level of emotional intelligence and engagement which can then generate respect.

“This creates a team culture of learning and growth that would otherwise be curbed and replaced by a lack of trust. By admitting what they did wrong then establishing how best to move forward to resolve the issue, managers might be surprised by the marked improvement on team behaviour this can result in.”

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