Does Your Association Have Trust Issues?

A new survey from the American Psychological Association found that workers’ trust of their employers is somewhat lagging, and it affects their job performance. A psychologist explains some methods organizations can use to build more trust among staff.

Trust is key to any relationship, including a working one.

But one out of four U.S. employees reported they don’t trust their employer, and one in three reported their employer was not always honest and truthful with them, according to the 2014 Work and Well-Being Survey [PDF] from the American Psychological Association.

Listening, practically by definition, lets you hear new ideas, and much of what keeps employees interested in coming to work is being able to share those ideas.

“This lack of trust should serve as a wake-up call for employers,” David W. Ballard, head of APA’s Center for Organizational Excellence, said in a statement. “Trust plays an important role in the workplace and affects employees’ well-being and job performance.”

Having written recently on employee engagement and happiness, I was interested to find out more on the relationships between trust and employee engagement. So, I spoke with Ballard to learn more about the study’s findings and what organizations can learn from them.

One key lesson for organizations is the role communication plays in either damaging or building trust. For example, employees may lose confidence in an organization when they don’t feel like they know what’s going on—they feel out of the loop—or when they don’t think their organization is being upfront with them.

Ballard suggested feelings of distrust could be leftover from the Great Recession, when employers had to make tough decisions such as cutting pay and benefits and letting staff go. But, sometimes it’s not so much what hard decisions are implemented but rather how they are carried out.

“If it’s done in a way that employees feel is unpredictable, and they don’t feel like they know what’s going on, then it’s a more stressful situation,” Ballard said. “And employees don’t feel like they can count on the organization to always be doing what’s in their best interest.”

So, how can employers be more transparent and upfront with employees? Some of it involves engaging staff in decision making and problem solving, Ballard said. “Allow employees to be part of that so they have control in the decision that affects their day-to-day work life.”

Part of involving employees more in decision making requires listening to them, but according to APA’s survey, not many organizations are doing this. Only 45 percent of those surveyed agreed that their organizations regularly collect feedback from employees, and only 36 percent agreed that their employer made changes in response to employee feedback.

Associations Now leadership blogger Mark Athitakis has written a lot on the topic of openness and transparency, and he’s made great arguments on the importance of listening to employees in times of change or crisis. “Listening, practically by definition, lets you hear new ideas, and much of what keeps employees interested in coming to work is being able to share those ideas,” he wrote in a post on leading staff through change.

The National Retail Federation sought staff feedback before making a fairly significant shift in its working environment recently. When initially deciding what type of office space would best suit the organization, NRF leadership polled its staff and other key stakeholders to find out specifically what they needed and wanted. After realizing a strong desire for more meeting space, NRF was able to make the decision to move to an open-plan office that offered greater capacity for meeting rooms.

To solicit feedback, Ballard suggested implementing open-door policies, suggestion boxes, town halls, team meetings, and employee surveys. But don’t just poll employees once a year in an annual survey and then allow the responses to disappear into a black hole. “Actually do something with the survey results,” Ballard said. “Communicate the results to employees, and communicate what’s being done with the results.”

How does your association work to instill trust among employees? Let us know in the comments.


Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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