The CEO Trust Test – New Research Findings from Robert Walters

12th December 2023

Posted In: Be In The Frame

35% of Irish professionals would rethink accepting a job offer based on a company’s CEO – even if they ‘liked’ their line manager – with a further 15% stating that they would outright decline a job offer based on who the CEO is.

The findings come from new research from specialist recruitment firm Robert Walters – unveiling the significant role CEOs and leaders are having on workplaces and professionals in Ireland and the UK.

According to the poll of 2,000 white-collar professionals, over a third (38%) do not trust the leaders of their organisation to do what is right.

Suzanne Feeney, Country Manager of Robert Walters Ireland comments: “Over the last 18 months, the profile of the CEO – and leaders in general – has definitely been raised, and this can be seen across the board right through to government officials, celebrities, and influencers.

“Anyone who has a significant ‘voice’ is feeling the pressure to use it wisely – and increasingly are expected to comment or provide a perspective on a host of different issues.

“With this ‘voice’ comes judgement – and our polls showcase that prospective employees are in fact making career decisions based on a CEO’s opinion, or lack of.”

CEO Front & Centre

According to the Robert Walters poll, almost half of professionals feel that the CEO has the biggest impact on a company’s culture (48%) – with a further third (35%) stating mid-management are just as influential. Interestingly just 17% feel that it is the overall employees of an organisation that have an influence of the workplace culture.

Testament to this, is the recent news of Sam Altman – CEO of research company OpenAI – being fired by the company’s board and reinstated in less than a week.

According to reports, the change of heart by the board was in part driven by an employee-led threat of mass resignations.

Suzanne adds: “We only have to look at examples such as OpenAI to see the influence that senior leadership has on whether people even want to work for the organisation.

“Increasingly CEO and senior leaders will play a crucial role in turnover, attraction, and retention rates.”

The key to CEO success

Further to findings,

two fifths (41%) of professionals believe that CEOs who ‘lead by example’ bring the most value to a company – whilst a quarter put CEO success down to being empathetic and a good listener.

Just over a fifth feel that being decisive and taking advice where needed is the key to winning people in the company over.

Suzanne adds: “Increasingly we are finding that professionals want to know that the leaders sitting at the helm of major companies know what they are doing and can lead with confidence and conviction – as well as maintain an empathetic and listening ear to their employees, and even wider society.

“It’s all about being in-touch with the people around you, having a diverse team, and hearing a host of different opinions and mediating on the single best solution to any problems that may arise. No matter how experienced a leader may be – they should never assume they have all the answers.”

The solution: Two-way trust

The 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer found that out of the 71% of employees who felt trusted by their CEO, 87% trusted their CEO in return – whilst the 29% of professionals who didn’t feel trusted by their CEO, only 27% trusted their CEO.

Suzanne comments: “There are many ways employees develop trust with their CEOs – things like feeling that their opinions are valued, they can express their views and see how they are recognised as well as feeling some involvement or are least aware of the decisions being made.”

Unsurprising results from the poll found that the two most common factors that led to employees distrusting CEOs was leaders having a ‘hidden agenda and playing into corporate politics’ (48%), and those who delivered unclear & inconsistent messages (31%).

Other factors that led to employees distrusting were CEOs who lacked a strong voice (14%) – whilst only 6% were led to doubts over a negative reputation.

Suzanne comments:

“The blueprint for building trust is clear – employees want leaders who are transparent and good communicators who maintain a strong, consistent voice. Who aren’t afraid to play an active role in creating a positive culture.

“Reputation, surprisingly, trails behind these other qualities. Showing it’s not always about trying to have the ‘popular opinion’.”