Why is it That so Many Employees Don’t Trust Their Employers?

36096388 - isolated business man liar conceptMore than half of us don’t believe our employers are open and upfront with us.

This disturbing news comes to us from an American Psychological Association Work and Well-Being Surveywhich finds nearly 1 in 4 workers don’t trust their employers, 1 in 3 reported their employers aren’t always honest or truthful, and less than half believe employers are open and upfront. This survey and article were done a couple years ago, but I’m wondering…how much has really changed since then?

This lack of trust in the workplace is a big deal, and is leading more than a quarter of US employees to say they intend to seek new employment in the next year.

How employers can gain trust back

Trust is the expectation that workers can count on and rely on their organization. That involves a lot of things, including past interactions with their company, whether they feel like things are done fairly, openness in communication, whether their values are consistent with the company’s values, the reliability of the company, and their perceptions of their company’s motives.

There were three key factors in the survey that predicted more than half the variance in trust:

  1. Employees’ perception of the level of involvement they have in their organization. To better involve employees, companies can implement group problem solving, self-managed work teams, profit sharing and stock plans, and 360 performance evaluations. It’s not enough to do the annual employee survey without letting people know what the results are and how changes based on them will be implemented. Give employees control and autonomy in what affects them every day.
  2. Recognition provided by their organization. Employers must focus on monetary and non-monetary recognition, both formal and informal. Employers can reward people for high levels of performance, make employees’ accomplishments more visible, and implement peer recognition programs. And specific and meaningful praise from a leader is always appreciated.
  3. How well the organization communicates. Communication is critical, and it bleeds into all other workplace practices. Employers must support good communication between employees and managers, make sure everyone is familiar with the mission of the organization, and offer ongoing opportunities to give feedback to managers. Bottom-up communication is as important as top-down. 

Feeling valued is key

Every organization is vulnerable to competitive and market challenges, and has to make tough decisions that may negatively impact employees at times. To keep employees’ trust intact, the best organizations find ways to do tough things in ways that are healthy, fair and as transparently as possible.

Whether or not employees felt valued also generated a huge differentiation in survey results. Some 92 percent of employees who felt valued said they’re satisfied with their job compared with 29 percent of those who didn’t feel valued. There’s a huge gulf in this area, and the survey found similar variances around training, development, and advancement.

The other key finding is that what drives engagement varies slightly from organization to organization. As a leader, you need to figure out what keeps employees engaged at your company, and understand how it affects performance.

You can’t make someone engaged — it’s an internal state. But you can provide an environment and context that makes engagement more likely.



Michelle M. Smith

Michelle M. Smith

Michelle M. Smith is Vice President, Marketing, of O.C. Tanner. A highly accomplished international speaker, author, and consultant on performance improvement, Michelle is a respected authority on leadership, internal branding and employee engagement. She’s published and presented more than 1,000 articles and lectures and is a trusted advisor to many of the world’s most successful organizations and the governments of the UK and the US.

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