Small Business: Regaining employees' trust, post-recession

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Nearly one in four workers say they don't

Nearly one in four workers say they don't trust their employers, according to a recent survey by the American Psychological Association. Experts say the situation can be fixed, but many companies have to work harder. This photo is a dramatization. Photo Credit: iStock

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Jamie Herzlich Newsday columnist Jamie Herzlich

Herzlich writes the Small Business column in Newsday.

Nearly one in four workers say they don't trust their employers, according to a recent survey by the American Psychological Association. And only about half believe their employer is open and up-front with them.

In the aftermath of the Great Recession, many companies have to work harder than ever to regain trust in their organization, experts say.

"We're seeing the impact of the bad economy and all the different things organizations had to do to weather that storm," explains David W. Ballard, head of the APA's Center for Organizational Excellence in Washington, D.C. "Employees aren't quick to forget if they weren't treated well when the chips were down."

During the depths of the recession in 2009, about two-thirds of workers said their company had to take reactive steps including pay cuts or reduction in benefits, he notes. Such actions can undermine trust, particularly if the company wasn't up-front about them.

Workers reported having more trust in their company when the organization recognized employees for their contributions, provided opportunities for involvement and communicated effectively, Ballard says.

Connect: "You need connection for trust," says Judith E. Glaser, author of "Conversational Intelligence" (Bibliomotion: $27.95) and CEO of Manhattan-based Benchmark Communications Inc., which focuses on culture change within organizations.

Often leaders just "tell, sell and yell," she says. They tell employees how it's going to be and then sell them on it, and yell if they don't understand. Frequently, they fail to provide a context for why they're doing something.

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"Without the context, people get frightened," says Glaser, noting leaders need to do less telling and more listening and discovering.

Ask questions: They need to talk to their people and ask more "discovery" questions -- for which they don't have answers -- enabling them to connect with their people and getting them to open up, she says.

Ask questions like 'What would it take to bring us together on an idea?' or 'What are some assumptions you have that you've never shared before?' Glaser says.

Identify problems: If there are trust issues within your organization, try to identify where the trust is broken, suggests Siobhan Murphy, executive coach at The Quest Connection, a Bay Shore-based leadership development firm.

Sometimes it's individual bosses that are the problem, while other times the problem may be broader, she notes.

Look for a targeted solution, she suggests. Ask: "Do we have policies and procedures, and are they implemented across the board?" "Are people treated fairly?" "Do we listen to our people?"

Take simple actions that don't cost a lot but go a long way. "One is a simple acknowledgment like a thank-you," Murphy says. "Acknowledgment is a fundamental humanneed, and when that need is met it's easier to trust."

Also ask whether company leaders "walk the talk," she says. For instance, if the organization says it values professional development but doesn't make the time or budget available for it, that can undermine trust, Murphy notes.

Don't let situations fester, advises Rob Basso, president of Advantage Payroll Services, a Freeport payroll processing and human resources provider, and author of "The Everyday Entrepreneur" (Wiley; $24.95). Work through it with the parties involved; don't pretend it's not happening, he suggests.

Stand behind decisions your employees make even if they're not the decisions you'd make, Basso says. Show them you trust them and their abilities.

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And give employees opportunities to be heard, he says. Advantage holds weekly sales meetings, monthly all-staff meetings and biweekly management meetings.

"People aren't afraid to speak up when they know their voice will be heard," he says.

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