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Are Employers Facing a Deficit of Trust?

While waiting in the airport recently, I noticed that the guy sitting next to me had taped paper over the webcam at the top of his laptop. I chuckled to myself at first at his apparent paranoia. Then I thought about that kid in Philadelphia who sued his school for taking photos of him on his laptop without his knowledge. So who could blame this young professional at the airport for being cautious? It is more than a little creepy thinking that your boss might be watching you in your hotel room on a business trip. Which got me thinking about trust.

Trust is lacking in many workplaces today. Employers don’t trust employees. Employees don’t trust employers. We see it in the survey business all the time. Clients hire my firm to conduct their employee surveys in part to ensure anonymity of respondents and confidentiality of results. And yet no matter how it’s communicated some employees will never believe their survey responses are anonymous. And so, with the fear of big brother looking over their shoulders, many employees miss the opportunity to provide honest feedback that might improve their workplace.  

In a world where it’s not uncommon to pick up a newspaper to see CEO led away in handcuffs, maybe it shouldn’t surprise us that many employees simply don’t trust their company’s leadership. Based on research that we’ve done with our clients at Questar, nearly 18% of employed adults do not trust their company’s senior management – and another 24% say they’re not sure. And that lack of trust leads to negative organizational outcomes. Employees who report a lack of trust in senior leadership are more likely to leave their job, more likely to join a union, and less likely to put in extra effort when compared with employees who trust their company’s leaders.  
So what’s the solution? There are concrete things that leaders can do to build trust among their followers. Research shows that the drivers of organizational trust are a lot more intuitive than you might think.
  • Communicate changes promptly and honestly.
  • Treat all employees with respect, regardless of job level.
  • Show through company actions that employees are important to its success.
  • Support people in taking work-related risks.
  • Conduct business with honesty and integrity.
  • Hold senior managers accountable for living the values and helping the organization fulfill its vision and mission.
  • Practice what you preach about diversity, ethics and values.
The hardest part for many organizations is to acknowledge and confront concerns about trust head on. Trust is reciprocal, so placing trust in employees is also likely to inspire trust in leaders.  And of course – actions speak louder than words. But you already knew that, didn’t you?

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dr. Anna Erickson published on June 10, 2010 6:54 PM.

Psychologically Healthy Workplaces are Real Snoozers was the previous entry in this blog.

Techniques for Managing Workplace Stress is the next entry in this blog.

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