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How trusting are employees? Study finds good, bad news for employers

Ever wonder how much employees trust their employers? Ever wonder if trust is even important? A new study from the American Psychological Association (APA) shows reason to worry about the level of trust workers have in their employers. As to the question of whether it’s important that workers trust their employers, the researchers say a definite yes. 

The APA’s 2014 Work and Well-Being Survey includes both good news and bad news for employers. The good news is that the study found more than three-fourths of employees claim to trust their employers. The bad news is that nearly a fourth say they don’t trust their employers, and that’s bad news indeed since the study links trust to performance.

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

The APA study also found that just over half the employees in the survey believe their employer is open and upfront with them. Why the mistrust and doubt? “The layoffs, benefits cuts, and job insecurity that accompanied the recession put a strain on the employee-employer relationship and people aren’t quick to forget,” Ballard says.

At least some of the findings of the new APA study mirror results reported from a 2011 poll conducted by marketing research firm Maritz Research. Respondents in that study cited poor communication, lack of perceived caring, inconsistent behavior, and perceptions of favoritism as the main reasons for their lack of trust in senior leaders.

Power of recognition
Employers aren’t powerless to repair the relationship, however. Workers in the APA study reported being more trustful of their employer when they feel recognized for their contributions and when they feel their employers provide opportunities for involvement and communicate effectively.

The APA study found that 70 percent of workers say they’re satisfied with their jobs. That sounds encouraging, but the research also found just 47 percent satisfied with employer recognition practices and 49 percent satisfied with their opportunities for growth and development.

Recognition was broken down into monetary compensation as well as non-monetary rewards. Just 48 percent feel their monetary compensation is adequate, and 42 percent are satisfied with non-monetary rewards, such as awards, praise from supervisors, or thank-you cards. Twenty-seven percent say they intend to seek new employment in the next year.

Importance of feeling valued
The study shows employees who feel valued are more likely to say they have high levels of energy, are strongly involved in their work, and feel happily engrossed in what they do.

Although 70 percent of participants overall report being satisfied with their jobs, 92 percent of those who feel valued by their employers report being satisfied and just 29 percent of those who don’t feel valued are satisfied with their jobs.

Employees who feel valued are also much more likely to regularly participate in employee training and development. They’re also more likely to believe that their employer provides sufficient opportunities for internal career advancement.

Those valued employees also are much more likely to report that they receive adequate monetary compensation and non-monetary rewards.

Toll of stress
The employees who report feeling valued also are less likely to say they experience stress during the workday (25 percent versus 56 percent of those who don’t feel valued). The valued employees also are more likely to report being in good psychological health (89 percent versus 69 percent of those who don’t feel valued).

The study identifies five top factors contributing to work stress. Low salary is No. 1, followed by lack of opportunity for growth and advancement. Rounding out the top five are uncertain or undefined job expectations, job insecurity, and long hours.

“The emphasis in recent years on employee wellness is a step in the right direction, but the psychological factors are often overlooked,” the APA’s Ballard says. “It’s clear that an organizational culture that promotes and supports openness, honesty, transparency, and trust is key to a healthy, high-performing workplace.”