Trust is often touted as the cornerstone to a successful relationship—business or personal. The results from the American Psychological Association (APA)’s 2014 Work and Well-Being survey, aren’t encouraging. Nearly a quarter of employees don’t trust their employers, a tough pill to swallow when you consider a good chunk of your day is spent at work.
Gretchen Gavett of the Harvard Business Review spoke with Dr. David Ballard, the APA’s Assistant Executive Director for Organizational Excellence, to find out why employees don’t trust their employers, and what leaders can do to fix it.
The problem is not a new one. In 2009, two-thirds of survey respondents reported that their companies took action to mitigate financial problems such as layoffs, reducing benefits and pay, enforcing unpaid time off, and increasing workloads. When asked about the situation the following year, more than half of the respondents said the cuts hadn’t been restored.
As the economy’s gotten better, employee paychecks haven’t improved, and media reports of skyrocketing CEO salaries only make the situation worse, Ballard tells the HBR. "When your CEO is making as much in a day as you make in a year, and you helped your company bear the brunt of the recession, it’s easy to see how you might not be happy," Ballard says. Here are three key areas where employee trust is lacking:
"Bottom-up communication is as important as top-down," Ballard notes. Everyone should be aware of the company’s mission, and employees should feel empowered to give feedback to managers, he says. If employees don’t feel like they’re part of the team, or receiving some level of control or autonomy over their job, they may feel disengaged.
Ballard says businesses can bring employees into the mix by encouraging group problem solving, offer profit-sharing plans, and provide 360 performance evaluations. If an employer asks employees to weigh in on what the company’s doing right, identify areas of improvement, etc., it needs to come back to them and disclose the results, Ballard says, as well as identify what action will be taken based on employee suggestions.
According to the survey, roughly half of the respondents reported feeling valued by their employer. And while participants cite compensation as one of their main stresses, recognition doesn’t have to be monetary, Ballard says. Offering a peer-recognition program that highlights exceptional performance is one way to show employees you value their hard work, he says.
Only 52% of respondents believe their employer is open and upfront with them, and a third believe their employer is not always honest and truthful. The recession affected all business, and even healthy ones had to make difficult decisions, Ballard says. The difference, however, came down not to what these companies did, but how they did it. "The best organizations found ways to do tough things in ways that were healthy, fair, and as transparent as possible," he says.
Hat tip: Harvard Business Review