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It’s the act that counts: minimizing post-violation erosion of trust

A. R. Elangovan (Gustavson School of Business, University of Victoria, Victoria, B.C. Canada)
Werner Auer-Rizzi (Institute of Organization and Global Management Studies, Johannes Kepler University, Linz, Austria)
Erna Szabo (Institute of International Management, Johannes Kepler University, Linz, Austria)

Leadership & Organization Development Journal

ISSN: 0143-7739

Article publication date: 2 March 2015




The purpose of this paper is to examine the effects of damage incurred by the trustor as a result of a trust violation and the impact of different levels of post-violation trust repair behaviours by the trustee on the subsequent erosion of trust.


Data were collected from 232 middle to senior level managers using a two-part scenario-based experimental design to test the impact of damage incurred (avoided) and post-violation repair behaviour. Respondents’ levels of trust were measured pre- and post-violation as well as forgiving and a range of demographic variables.


Results showed that trust eroded independent of the level of damage that may have been caused. Further, post-violation trust repair behaviour by the trustee led to a significantly lower erosion of trust as compared to not engaging in such behaviours. Furthermore, erosion of trust was minimized, when the trustee engaged in increasing levels of trust repair behaviour. Results also showed that trustors who were relatively more forgiving were less likely to lose trust in the trustee after a violation.

Research limitations/implications

In this study we focused on two key factors influencing the erosion of trust. Further factors need to be identified and empirically tested in order to get a more holistic view on how trust erodes. The results serve as one step towards building an integrated model of trust erosion.

Practical implications

For practicing managers, the results imply that the actual incurrence or avoidance of damages from a trust violation appears to be peripheral – trustors are more concerned about the violation as a principle and a harbinger of similar future incidents. Further, quickly engaging in trust repair behaviours, such as offering an a good explanation, a heartfelt apology, and appropriate remedy, helps minimize the erosion of trust.


This paper addresses an under-investigated facet of trust research in organizations – erosion of trust – which is especially crucial in light of the growing awareness that most organizational relationships actually start off with high levels of trust rather than low trust. Thus, this study offers insights into maintaining (as opposed to building) trust.



The authors thank Gerhard Reber for his constant encouragement, support and guidance during this project.


Elangovan, A.R., Auer-Rizzi, W. and Szabo, E. (2015), "It’s the act that counts: minimizing post-violation erosion of trust", Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol. 36 No. 1, pp. 81-96.



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Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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