Fostering Mutual Trust with Your Employees, Part 1

The next time that you need to spark a lively conversation, just ask people about bad their experiences at work. Whether their bad experience happened last week or years ago, people can become animated with passion, enthusiasm and, sadly, with bitterness when talking about these experiences. For instance, a loyal and dedicated employee who gave years of service to a company may tell you about a promotion she got, only to be told that she had to accept the increased responsibility for her current salary. Another employee may tell you about a time he spoke frankly at a staff meeting, and was berated by his boss for telling the truth. In these situations, managers treat employees in ways that would insult and appall them if they were on the receiving end.

Some fitness facility owners and managers may complain that their employees are not dedicated or don’t take their work seriously. If you hear yourself agreeing with that, you need to do more than simply hire employees with good people skills: You should empower employees by sharing information and by treating them with the respect that they deserve. In other words, you need to foster mutual trust.

Fostering trust

Employer/employee trust has taken a beating in recent years. The trust erosion began in the 1980s with the epidemic of mergers and acquisitions, and the resulting layoffs, which shredded the longstanding tradition of working for one company for a whole career and retiring with an appreciation luncheon and a gold watch. Shell-shocked survivors of those layoffs wised up fast. Today, most employees believe that for companies, it’s all about the bottom line, and therefore they need to look out for No. 1.

Studies reflect this lack of trust. A study of 1,800 workers, conducted by Aon’s Loyalty Institute in Ann Arbor, Mich. (released in June 2000), showed that 13 percent of U.S. workers don’t trust their employers to protect them from fear, intimidation and harassment in the workplace. A larger study of 7,500 employees conducted by Watson Wyatt Worldwide of Bethesda, Md., found that only half of workers trusted their senior managers.

While the 1980s and 1990s were an employer’s market, the robust economy has changed the situation. Today, there is fierce competition for quality employees, and employers are realizing the importance of trust, particularly in times of constant change.

Trust gives people the confidence to take risks, to be innovative and to not fear making mistakes. All of these behaviors contribute to high morale.

They can also help your bottom line. The Watson Wyatt study found that companies where employees trusted senior managers had shareholder returns 42 percent higher than those where distrust was rampant.

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