How Lack Of Trust Is Demotivating Employees & Impacting Performance
The Great Recession will soon be a distant memory in the minds of many. Yet, even though the economy appears to be recovering in many sectors, so many of us still in the workplace feel as though we are being left behind in this recovery period. What was once a feeling of gratitude and relief to even have a job has become a sense of stagnation and discontent in most firms.
A toxic office culture leads to lack of engagement and job satisfaction. Lack of trust is by far the worst of workplace toxins. Management must trust employees to be productive and deliver high quality work, so must employees trust their leaders. Instead of trust, however, many workplaces are mired in fear. In workplaces dominated by fear, employee engagement and job satisfaction scores are substantially below average, which has a profoundly negative impact on productivity.
In the aftermath of the 2008–2009 financial crisis, firms were forced to let go of a large number of workers. Obviously, firms in the midst of layoffs tend to be dominated by actively disengaged and fearful employees. Only recently has the job market returned to sufficient health to alleviate this fear. But, the prior cost-cutting also created the perfect environment for further entrenchment of draconian policies. Salaried employees became subject to prohibitions on working remotely and were forced to follow the same attendance policies as hourly workers. Stacked performance rankings, intended to weed-out the least productive employees, instead created environments of distrust over how rankings were calculated. Instead of taking actions that were in the combined best interests of the firm and the employee, workplaces have instead suffered under concerns that failure to adhere to the latest HR directives would lead to performance improvement plans and other dreadfully pointless activities.
Most importantly, middle managers lost much of their ability to manage their direct reports as individuals with unique talents and needs. Budgets have not allowed managers to reward their best employees with promotions and salary increases. Policies have not allowed managers to set work schedules for employees with personal issues that are easily accommodated by remote work or a flexible schedule. A critical piece of the employee-supervisor relationship has been lost. Employees know better than to ask for training opportunities, exceptions, accommodations, or just about anything else. With this lack of trust, employees have learned also that they are better off withholding their opinions and creativity, for fear of attracting unwanted attention.
Frustration is also a major source of employee disengagement. Strict cost controls squelched opportunities for promotion and advancement and have led to profound under-investment in people. Productivity suffers for multiple reasons. overall, employees feel underpaid, overworked, and unappreciated. Departments that suffer from these issues tend to have significant engagement and productivity problems.
Corporate executives increasingly view their employees as fully fungible assets. Executives display a Depression-era mentality, where employees should feel grateful to have a job, because there were so many job seekers that could easily fill the role. At worst, this creates a dystopian workplace where employees feel invisible and find no meaning in their work. These feelings further have disproportionate impacts on Millennial and Generation X workers, who were raised in environments featuring abundant recognition. Companies cognizant of these issues face significant challenges in making improvements. It is not as simple as having line managers’ hand out gold stars to employees as they complete their projects.
There are several steps that companies with engagement problems can take to improve employee satisfaction, provided that executives view this as a long-term commitment that requires a top-down approach.
1) Executives must understand that every employee brings something special to the firm. Every employee holds an irreplaceable portion of the overall corporate memory.
2) Executives need to provide their employees with the support, equipment, and opportunities that they need and deserve, instead of treating staffing and equipment as costs that must be strictly controlled.
3) Executives must empower line managers to treat their direct reports as individuals, by unwinding ill-conceived policies.
Without a high level of trust and transparency between employees and their immediate supervisors, workplaces will remain disengaged and unproductive.