Is this the real reason employees don't trust leaders?

Within the past few weeks, two different reports came out that paint a troubling scenario for internal communicators. The Edelman Trust Barometer and Gatehouse's State of the Sector report are must reads for anyone in leadership and employee communications and when laid on top of each other show a dangerous gap that communicators need to pay attention to.

Let's look at Edelman first. Their annual Trust Barometer shows trust in CEOs is at its lowest level ever. Ever. At not point since Edelman has been putting this report has CEO trust been so low. In 2017, that number is 37%, falling 12 percentage points in the last year.  It's important to note that the report isn't specifically saying that employees don't trust their own CEO, but you can easily draw a line to make this connection.

And to Gatehouse's ninth State of the Sector report, it tells another story about communication gaps with senior leaders. In this report, communicators cited strong communication skills for senior leaders and executives at their company, rating most as excellent or good. And that is good news.

But here's the gap. These skills aren't relating to visibility and approachability. Only around a fifth of senior leaders are seen as very visible or approachable and the number drops even lower for executive team members. And my opinion (and possibly only mine) is that these numbers are in fact even lower. Often communicators have tremendous access to leaders and don't realize how few others don't.

So we have a situation where Gatehouse tells us that leaders are perceived to have strong communication skills but limited visibility, and Edelman reports low trust in CEOs. To me, the solution seems simple.

Communicators have to focus on making their leaders more visible (easy) and approachable (sometimes not so much). Communicators know who their strong leaders are and the ones who aren't. They know which ones are more approachable than others. It's time to not only feature them and tell their stories, but also get them to participate.

Getting leaders to participate is one of the easiest ways to build trust. It puts leaders on the same level as all employees. It brings about changes and hearing both new problems and solutions. By making leaders more approachable, you'll take care of two other problems. Communicators are making them more visible and increasing trust with employees.

Featuring leaders in videos and conducting town halls are both great ways of increasing visibility, but approachability can be trickier. The key here is providing a forum where leaders can share information, show their personality and participate in conversations with employees. This is where IC mobile apps with social components have definite strengths.

Leaders can participate when they have time from their phone. If they are on the road, they can share pictures or videos of their interactions with coworkers. They can recognize those going above and beyond AND do it in their words. And that's the key. It's their words. They're the ones recognizing. And they have the opportunity to jump in on other conversations going on where employees might not expect to them to participate.

Communicators can't be successful if employees don't trust their leaders and these same leaders aren't approachable and visible. It's time to fix the problem.

**A version of this post originally appeared on the StaffConnect blog.