Employee Trust and Confidence in U.S. Corporate Leaders Improves Slightly, but Only Half Think Leaders Are Effective, Towers Watson Research Finds

Other leadership qualities received mixed reviews

ARLINGTON, Va.--()--Workers’ trust and confidence in U.S. corporate leaders has increased modestly over the past four years, but the number of workers who think top management provides effective leadership overall has slipped slightly, according to research from global professional services company Towers Watson (NYSE, NASDAQ:TW). Further, while a majority of U.S. employees give leaders high marks for promoting a positive image and understanding what drives success, barely half say leaders inspire employees, understand how their actions impact them or are open to new ideas.

“Given the complexities of today’s changing global economy, the need for strong and effective leaders has never been greater”

According to the Towers Watson Global Workforce Study, more than half (55%) of all U.S. employees surveyed said they have trust and confidence in their senior leaders. That is an increase from 2012, when 49% said they had trust and confidence in their senior leaders, and from 47% in 2010. The survey also found that only half (55%) of the respondents agree their top management provides effective leadership, up slightly from 50% of employees who responded that way in 2010.

“Given the complexities of today’s changing global economy, the need for strong and effective leaders has never been greater,” said Marie Holmstrom, director, Talent Management and Organization Alignment, at Towers Watson. “And while we are pleased to see that more employees trust and feel confident in their leaders, and that many give high marks on certain leadership qualities, it’s disappointing many see their leaders as falling short, especially in their overall effectiveness.”

According to the survey, employees give leaders the following high marks:

  • Eight in 10 (80%) for promoting a positive image of the company to the outside world
  • More than two-thirds (68%) for displaying an appropriate sense of urgency in accomplishing important business goals; 68% for being clear and consistent about company priorities for driving business success; and 68% for understanding factors that lead to success

At the same time, only half the respondents agree that leaders are flexible in their approach to new situations (47%); are aware of how their actions impact the thoughts and emotions of other workers (52%); and inspire employees to give their best (54%).

“The results of our study show that organizations and senior leaders themselves need to work on improving their leadership skills. We also know from our ongoing research that leadership is the top driver of employee engagement, and trust and confidence in senior leadership is among the top five reasons an employee stays with a company. Those organizations that are able to develop strong and effective leaders will be much better positioned to enhance worker productivity, improve employee engagement, and attract and retain key talent,” said Laura Sejen, managing director, Rewards at Towers Watson.

HR’s Role in Developing Leaders

The survey also found that only four in 10 respondents (41%) agree that senior management at their organization does a good job developing future leaders, putting in doubt their ability to maintain the culture they need to continue to deliver on their strategic priorities in the long term. This is one of the lowest scores respondents gave when asked to rate the job their leaders are doing.

“Developing strong, effective leaders is not something that just happens on its own. In fact, HR plays a critical role in building the right set of leaders for an organization. To start, HR must articulate the key capabilities required for their organization’s top management and evaluate how leadership is positioned for the organization’s near-term and future success. HR can build the profile of success, assess leaders based on their demonstration of those requirements and clarify the path needed to get the right leaders in place today while building the next generation of leadership,” said Holmstrom.

About the Study

The Towers Watson Global Workforce Study covers more than 32,000 employees, including 6,014 from the U.S., selected from research panels that represent the populations of full-time employees working in large and midsize organizations across a range of industries in 26 markets around the world. It was fielded online during April and May 2014.

About Towers Watson

Towers Watson (NYSE, NASDAQ: TW) is a leading global professional services company that helps organizations improve performance through effective people, risk and financial management. With 15,000 associates around the world, the company offers consulting, technology and solutions in the areas of benefits, talent management, rewards, and risk and capital management. Learn more at towerswatson.com.


For Towers Watson
Ed Emerman, 609-275-5162

Towers Watson