Problems with Employee Trust and Some Solutions

5 min read · 6 years ago


A slowly recovering economy and
wage stagnation have contributed to a level of workplace mistrust, according to
several authors, studies and employment experts.

One recent survey found:

  • 53% of employees don’t feel recognized for their
    achievements at work.
  • 51% are not happy with their jobs.
  • 61% don’t know their company’s mission or cultural
  • 45% don’t trust their company’s leadership.
  • 50% don’t expect to be in their current jobs next


These painful findings come
courtesy of the employee  recognition and
rewards firm, Achievers, and its 2015
workforce report, “The Greatness Gap: The State of Employee Disengagement.”
That survey of nearly 400 North American employees, found widespread mistrust
between employees and their companies.

Start With Communication

David Brennan, general manager
of the employee recognition firm Achievers, was not surprised “But I think many
employers would be. Many have a real hard time communicating with their
employees,” Brennan said. “That’s the underpinning of the problem and it
impacts the level of trust. When leaders aren’t effectively communicating with
their employees, it creates gaps. Employees begin thinking things that may or
may not be true. They feel kept in the dark and become more cynical. If you’re
only sitting down on an annual basis with your staff, too much time can pass by
and those employees can get sidetracked. These findings should shock CEOs and
business owners.”

Brennan said Achievers, which
employs 230 in San Francisco and Toronto, holds quarterly town meetings that
review goals and achievements of the past quarter and department reviews.

“We started those things when
we were small and built on this foundation of good communication until it
became part of our culture. We don’t do annual performance reviews. People are
recognized on a daily basis. We employ a recognition newsfeed that gives
employees real time feedback. They don’t have to wait a year. They can see how
they are trending on a daily or monthly basis.”

He said that even managers in
small companies need to make time to recognize their employees’ contributions.

“There’s no greater ROI than to
say thank you,” he said.  “At the end of day we all go home and get same
question: How was your day today?”

Lack of Trust

David Ballard, who heads the
American Psychological Association’s Center for Organizational Excellence, said
the recession and its subsequent layoffs, pay rollbacks and benefit cuts left
employees feeling uncertain and concerned.

Ballard said the annual APA
workforce survey found that one in three employees reported that their
employers were dishonest with them.

“This lack of trust should
serve as a wake-up call for employers,” said Ballard, who noted that trust
affects employees’ sense of well-being and job performance.

“Fewer people are being asked
to do more work with fewer resources,” he said, citing the APA survey conducted
by Harris Polls.

Ballard said research shows
that past employer-employee interactions affect employee trust.

“The perception of how fair
things are done weighs heavily,” he said.  He said reliability is another factor. “How
predictable are the interactions with employers? Can employees expect to be
treated fairly and consistently? Or do those interactions feel random and
chaotic? Many employees surveyed said they were waiting for the other shoe to

Ballard said satisfied
employees reported higher levels of job involvement and felt recognized for
their contributions.

“If you give employees more
autonomy and control, greater say in day-to-day operations and input in
decisions that affect them on the job and then recognize their work through
monetary and non-monetary rewards, employees perceive they are valued,” he said.
“There’s a huge difference in job satisfaction, motivation and intent to leave
the job between employees who do and don’t trust their employers.”

He said small employers can’t
always offer robust benefits or match high wages and salaries of large corporations.
“But they can be more nimble and find more unique and personalized ways to
recognize employees and many of the most effective are low cost or no cost,” he
said. He said insuring that employees have a good job fit is important,
starting with hiring right the first time. 

“Employees who say their jobs
fit them report higher levels of job satisfaction and performance and lower
turnover,” he said.

Quitting at an all time high

Paul McDonald, senior executive
director of the Menlo Park, Calif.-based professional staffing and executive
recruitment firm, Robert Half, said the ‘quits’ rate—the movement of
employees from one organization to another— is now approaching an all-time

“That movement indicates a
level of distrust. If people have gone through this economic downturn with the
same organization and haven’t seen their compensation levels return to previous
levels, they believe that their employers are not taking care of them, even
after they stuck around through the hard times.”

McDonald, who has been tracking
employment trends for more than 30 years, said management must be consistent in
how it handles employee rewards, recognition and reprimands.

“If they’re inconsistent in
their processes for handling problems, compensation, promotions and demotions,
that builds huge mistrust and creates a culture that undermines organizational
morale and spurs gossip at the water cooler or, worse yet, on the electronic
water cooler.”

He also recommended that
management assess employee compensation quarterly instead of annually.  “The market is changing rapidly,” he pointed
out. “That doesn’t mean you raise compensation quarterly, but you should
understand and track the market and consult third party resources to help you.
The replacement cost for top performers far exceeds what a small raise might do
for that individual.”

Richard Finnegan, CEO of
Longwood, Fla.-based employee engagement and retention firm, C-Suite Analytics,
said research reveals that the number one reason people leave their jobs is
that they don’t trust their immediate supervisor.  “All these employee surveys and programs are
nice, but they don’t build one-on-one trust,” he said.

Finnegan advised employers of
all sizes to regularly conduct what he calls ‘stay interviews”— scheduled
one-on-one meetings between managers and employees that include structured
conversations about how that manager can make that employee’s job better.

“They should happen at least
once a year, but they can be more frequent and they must be separate from
performance meetings,” said Finnegan, the author of “Rethinking Retention in
Good Times and Bad” and “The Power of Stay Interviews for Engagement and
Retention.”  “The primary purpose is to build trust with the boss.”

He suggested asking five
questions of employees: what do they look forward to when they commute to work;
what they are learning there and why do they stay. When was the last time the
employee thought about leaving and what prompted that thought and how can the
manager or small business owner make that firm a better place to work.  

It’s Not Just Compensation

Finnegan said the number one
employee request in those interviews is better work processes, such as
eliminating an unnecessary and time-consuming report or fixing or replacing
poorly operating equipment.

“Some people will bring up
compensation, but not as many as you think,” Finnegan said.  “It’s good to
know why they (employees) think they deserve a raise and what skills they’re
willing to learn to earn more.”

Barry Schwartz, a psychology
professor at Swarthmore College and the author of “Why We Work,” said workplace
studies and surveys indicate most people want work that challenges and fulfills
them, gives them opportunities to learn and grow and the ability to exercise
some autonomy and control over their work lives. He said companies that valued
employees were more likely to survive and remain profitable.

Schwartz said mistrust stems
from several factors, but one has longstanding duration: the lack of employment
security.  “This notion that the last
thing your boss would do is fire you is gone and in its wake it’s produced a
lack of loyalty from employees,” Schwartz observed.

He said some business owners
hire with the view that they must constantly watch what employees do and bribe
them into working hard.

“People like to get bonuses,
but sometimes they come with the implication that you can’t be trusted to work
without being compensated extra,” he said. He advised granting employees
greater responsibility.

“Don’t just make speeches, then
keep things the way they were. Act on complaints and suggestions. Nurture them
along. You have to show them you’re sincere, which may mean tolerating a few
mistakes. Over time, you can change the culture and in the long run the company
will be a more profitable business and they will do better work for you.”