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South Africans do not trust their workplaces


Very low Index score of 57 should be addressed by corporate South Africa to ensure sustainability in business.

Results of South Africa’s first National Corporate Trust Index shows that employees experience a very low level of trust in their working environments. The Index reveals a national trust score of 57 out of 100, with a score below 60 viewed as very low by global research standards.

A further breakdown of the Index score indicates that 52 percent of respondents gave their organisation a low trust rating overall, including 15 percent who said that there was either very low or no trust in their place of work.

The National Corporate Trust Index provides a national benchmark of the perception of trust in corporate South Africa and is a composite score evaluated from detailed interviews with over 1000 employees at private and public South African companies. The research was compiled by Consulta Research, on behalf of FranklinCovey South Africa, using a robust scientific and globally accepted analysis methodology.

An absence of trust in the workplace impacts negatively on innovation, engagement, team co-operation and agility.

Organisations that operate at a low level of trust do not enjoy business confidence, sustainability or financial success. Building trust is a long-term strategy to achieve sustainability – you can achieve quick results in a culture of fear and mistrust, but these results won’t be sustainable.

The ability to establish, extend and restore trust with all stakeholders, whether they’re customers, business partners, investors or co-workers, is the key leadership competency of the new global economy. Leaders of sustainable and profitable organisations are looking beyond the common view of trust as a soft, social virtue, and learning to see it as a critical, highly relevant performance multiplier.

In a more positive light, the research revealed that there are some organisations that have embraced this view, as 24 percent of respondents said that they work in environments where trust is a visible asset, with a further nine percent saying that they enjoy world-class trust in their place of work.

15 percent of respondents said that trust is not an issue in their working environment. Companies with a high trust culture will enjoy increased organisational excellence and performance, because trust lays the foundation for business ideas and concepts to flourish.  

Trust in public, listed and privately owned organisations

Private companies displayed the highest level of trust with an Index score of 66.3, with listed and publicly traded companies yielding a score of 56.7. Among public organisations like state-owned enterprises, government departments, non-governmental organisations and education institutions, the score was a startlingly low 48.8 – the lowest score across the whole research project.

Interestingly, just more than 50 percent of survey respondents were unwilling to answer questions about the level of trust in their organisations, suggesting a high level of distrust in their place of work.

We believe that there is a greater level of trust in privately owned companies because business owners are closer to their employees, and have a deeper vested interest in their success and contributions to the operation’s success.

Trust at different management levels

The Index reveals that the lowest level of trust is among South African junior and middle managers, with a score of 50, with their staff displaying a trust level of 50. The highest score of the Index is found among senior and top management, at 65.

In our work with large corporations, we have found that this difference in perception of trust is the result of top management believing that that their communication with staff is effective, when in fact the opposite is true.

Frequently, middle management are exposed to decision-making processes, but don’t play an active role in concluding those decisions. Where low levels of trust exist amongst middle management, the concern would be that company strategy will not filter through effectively to general staff.

This is further emphasised in the scores calculated according to company size. The Index revealed that small companies of 20 employees or less display the greatest level of trust with a score of 73, while companies of more than 500 employees show a low level of trust at just 50. Medium-sized companies of between 21 and 500 employees still fall below the national average, with a score of 56.

Top management in large companies seldom connect with their staff on the ground, with middle management often being gatekeepers who manage how much information is shared upwards and downwards, creating a politically fraught environment in the workplace that destroys trust rather than building it. Small companies usually display a relatively flat structure in a small environment, making good communication and building a trust environment much easier.

Marlinie Ramsamy is the CEO of FranklinCovey South Africa.

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