No Communication? No Trust


With an economy that’s taking its sweet time recovering from the worst recession since World War II and global competition fiercer than ever, it would be nice if American workers had confidence in their companies’ management to lead them through the tough times.

Don’t hold your breath. A new poll by Maritz Research delivers a scathing assessment of employees’ trust in their business leaders.

Only 14 percent believe their companies’ leaders are ethical and honest. Ten percent trust management to make the right decisions in uncertain times. Twenty-five percent say they have less trust in management than they did last year — and that’s in an economy that is supposedly on the upswing, slow as it may be.

“Employee trust is such a critical factor for success, especially given what the American workforce has faced the past several years,” says Rick Garlick, Ph.D., senior director of strategic consulting and implementation with Martiz Hospitality Research Group. “This data paints such a dire picture of employee trust levels, management must ask themselves how they can better engage with their people.”

Business leaders could start with communication. Only 12 percent of workers believe their employers really listen to and care about employees. As with most business problems, improving communication can only help organizations rebuild trust between employees and their leaders. There is no downside to better communication.

Yet many business leaders sabotage their companies’ futures by cutting communication activities to the bone and acting as if employees are a necessary evil in the pursuit of profits. No need to discuss the business strategy with employees; they don’t care and they wouldn’t understand it anyway. No need to give workers an opportunity to express their opinions, ask questions or share ideas for improvement; that would only cost time and money, and besides, we know more about what needs to be done than they do. No need to share the stories of people who are doing great things to help the company succeed; it’s a waste of time and does nothing to help us make our numbers.

The fact is that communication is among the most powerful tools business leaders have at their disposal. Employees who see and hear and understand their management’s plans for the business are more likely to invest themselves in implementing those plans. Workers who feel valued and respected are more willing to plug in and do whatever it takes to help the business succeed. Employees who are treated like adults will act like adults; they’ll take responsibility and do difficult things and be productive.

Trust is the foundation of any relationship. You can’t trust someone you don’t know. And you can’t know someone if you don’t communicate with them. Regularly.

There’s been a lot of head scratching going on this year about why the economy has no steam behind it, even though we’ve turned the corner from the Great Recession. Maybe a good place for business leaders to start turning things around would be to take some solid steps toward rebuilding the trust of employees they have so obviously lost.

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6 Responses

  1. I am a communications professional and admittedly biased, but it amazes me that communicationsn pros are often among the first to be laid off when a company’s finances get rocky. Middle managers get fewer details from the top–and filter the message even further to the bottom. Transparency disappears. Open discussion becomes merely venting. Initiative is mistaken for who puts in the most hours. Then management wonders why staff doesn’t trust them.

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  4. […] Ways to Rebuild Lost Trust Robert J. Holland (photo, left) writes, "I recently decried the results of a survey that indicates U.S. workers’ trust in management continues to erode, even as the […]

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