A Lesson in Employee Engagement: Reestablish Trust

Excerpt from “Maritz Research Hospitality Group 2011 Employee Engagement Poll.”

By Rick Garlick, Ph.D., Senior Director,Strategic Consulting and Implementation,Maritz Hospitality Research Group

Almost three years after the onset of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, employees still harbor a deep distrust of company management. A new Maritz Poll conducted by Maritz Research found that despite a slight improvement in business conditions, the American workforce remains less engaged with their employers than they did one year ago. Poor communication, lack of perceived caring, inconsistent behavior, and perceptions of favoritism were cited by respondents as the largest contributors to their lack of trust in senior leaders. And that’s not the end of the depressing statistics for business managers.

Maritz Research found that approximately one-quarter (25 percent) of employees report having less trust in management than they didlast year, and only 10 percent of employees trust management to make the right decision in times of uncertainty. Meanwhile, just 12 percent of employees believe their employer listens to and cares about them.

So, how do those in HR and management engage employees in their jobs and begin the process of rebuilding trust with their employees? Now, more than ever, the key to positive employee experiences is values. According to the poll, only 14 percent of Americans say their companies’ values are in line withtheir personal values, and 98 percent of employees who expressed low levels of trust in management believed their companies’ values were not aligned with their own. In contrast, nearly one-third (31 percent) of those who indicated greater trust in management also believed their values were consistent with their company’s values.

Because employees tend to seek out employers that hold the same values they do, it is important for employers to connect with employees on a “values-level” to create a positive working experience, improve employee retention rates,and increase trust in management. By understanding what employees value, managers can develop appropriate ways to engage them.

To study employee values, Maritz Research characterized eight employee profiles based upon the alignment between respondents’ personal values and company values, and the resulting impact on engagement. The eight employee profiles include:

  1. “The Self-Made Man/Woman”: These achievers seek challenges and strive to build a life of accomplishments and security for themselves, and often work for companies that offer a competitive environment.
  2. “The Humanists”: This group strives to perpetuate social justice, but holding such lofty ideals often leads them to be disappointed in their workplace, even when working for a company that supposedly supports their values.
  3. “The Nesters”: These people value security and a stable job, and often are considered the “worker bees.” They are content to work in the same position at a company for many years.
  4. “Work Hard, Get the Job Done”: These workaholics are motivated to provide a secure life for themselves and their families, and don’t seek much personal gratification or fun outside the workplace.
  5. “The Traditionalists”: This group has a strong respect for jobsecurity and traditional values, and usually prefers jobs in conservative companies with similar values.
  6. “Freedom Seekers”: These self-directed achievers want to do work that is intellectually stimulating, and are not motivated by promotions or gaining power in the workplace.
  7. “The Entrepreneurs”: These independent thinkers want to feel accomplished in their work, and prefer working on their own and by their own rules.
  8. “The Rugged Individualists”: These people believe anyone can accomplish what they want if they work hard enough. Typically, they are not engaged in their workplaceand choose to work in competitive environments.

In considering these employee profiles, it becomes clear that individual values significantly impact how well employees fit withincertain companies. If a company truly wants to engage its workforce, establish trust,and gain loyalty, it must implement reward and recognition strategies that acknowledge behaviors that are aligned with company values. Sadly, this isn’t common practice,and only 8percent of employees say they are frequently recognized for demonstrating behavior consistent with their company’s stated values.

Whether through recognition programs or a change in management style, management should act now by considering ways they can emotionally reconnect people to their jobs.

Connect Employees’ Values with Company Values: Do you know what your employees value? Ask them! Leaders should find ways to connect their team’s jobs to those values. Getting them to focus on a larger “mission” makes the employee feel his or her work is important beyond just putting money in someone else’s pocket.

Be Visible: If managers want to build trust, they must be visible. One executive recently told Maritz that he makes a point to make eye contact and say hello to every employee he sees. While this may not fit everyone’s personality, the key is to appear genuine and caring about your workforce. If you can’t take the time to acknowledge your people, it communicates a significant trust barrier.

Encourage Personal Connections: Many companies value collaboration and working together to provide effective service. When people are only looking out for themselves, they are far more likely to assume an attitude of “it’s not my job,” and they become disengaged from their coworkers. Give people the chance to spend time getting to know one another through outside activities to encourage collaboration.

To learn more about Maritz Research’s findings, download the poll here: http://www.maritz.com/~/media/Files/MaritzDotCom/White%20Papers/ExcecutiveSummary_Research.ashx

Rick Garlick, Ph.D., is the senior director ofStrategic Consulting and Implementation atMaritz Hospitality Research Group.Maritz is a sales and marketing services company thathelps organizationsachieve their full potential through understanding, enabling, and motivating employees, channel partners,and customers. Maritz provides marketand customer research, communications, learning solutions, incentive initiatives, rewards and recognition, effective meeting, event,and incentive management services and customer loyalty programs. For more information, visit www.maritz.comor call 877.4MARITZ. Follow us on Twitter @ Maritz_LLC.

Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.