Retaining Employee Trust

Learning organizations are encouraging people to go for the top of the Maslow’s pyramid to pursue self-actualization, integrate their talents and values, and fulfill their emotional needs. (Duck 1998) Yet, the most basic needs of safety and security are not guaranteed. The old mold of corporations implied an agreement that in return for years of hard work and company loyalty, employees could count on employment.

In addition, there was a predictable career path. If employees worked hard they would receive raises and promotions and move up through the ranks of an organization. Today, layoffs are more common and retirement packages and pension plans are virtually non-existent. Management is still expecting the old-fashioned loyalty and commitment without holding up its end of the deal. In order to build trust, organizations must invest in good people and reward them accordingly.

Employees want security. Only when a company communicates its intentions and follows through can it achieve that employee love and commitment to the organization that cannot be created with motivational slogans and empty promises. Human Resources is the key to planning, communicating, and monitoring these efforts to give employees the security and fulfilled promises they need and give the organization employees who are loyal and committed to improved performance.

This analysis will identify challenges faced by organizations in developing trust through the following human resources systems:

  1. Empowerment
  2. Recruitment and selection
  3. Employee communications and involvement
  4. Organizational design
  5. Relationships between employee groups


A common contributor to the mistrust in the employee/employer relationship is the recent avalanche of Total Quality Management programs. Buzz words for campaigns of this nature include “winning attitude”; “positive thinking” and “we’re #1”. Positive affirmation and pep talks are used to create a sense love for the company and to persuade people to believe in the new vision.

This approach rarely works anymore because employees have become desensitized to this tactic, due to overuse or past disappointment. Most people have been through dozens of change programs that start out with a boom and end up on the cutting room floor. These employees have been made promises by top management with no follow through, so they are hesitant to put themselves on the line and commit to a new way of thinking. (Duck 1998) Empowering the lower level staff to be decision-makers can solve this problem. Taking into consideration the level of responsibility the staff is able to handle, management can let staff tell them the best way to improve a process then let them head up the project.

The key to making this approach successful is management that constantly communicates with staff and provides support and direction when needed. Trust will only be regained when employees buy into a new corporate vision, change their attitudes and then their behavior will change consequently. Employees will then strengthen their commitment to the organization after seeing the success of the improvements and the changed behavior will continue.

Recruitment and Selection

In recruitment, the trust of the employees may be damaged by not filling key leadership positions promptly or effectively. When employees must take on extra work or are not provided with the proper leadership they might become resentful. In addition, not promoting internally or providing the resources for employees to develop into leadership positions will cause dissatisfied employees. Under-staffing is also a burden on current employees causing mistrust and poor work performance.
Recruitment involves both internal and external selection of people to fill positions. Many employers use internal promotion and transferring to fill openings above entry level. By recruiting from within, an organization can capitalize on previous investments made in recruiting, selecting, training and developing its current employees. Internal promotions also reward employees for past performance and send a positive message to other employees that their efforts will be rewarded. (Bohlander 1998)

Employee Communications and Involvement

Organizations must first have information systems in place to effectively communicate to its employees. Many employers make the mistake of funneling information from the top-down only. This contributes to a lack of buy-in and feelings of isolation on t the part of the employees. Employees need avenues to share knowledge with each other or provide management with feedback on their departmental issues. In addition, when corporate strategy is communicated, there is needs to be direction on how to implement that strategy or a system for holding people accountable for doing so. HR needs to be involved in the strategic planning so that corporate goals are linked to the work processes. (Lake 1997) If there is constant communication from the top-down and bottom-up there will be no surprises when it comes time to reward employees for expectations met.

A communications vehicle that emphasizes input from the employees will involve employees in the process of planning and their participation will contribute to employee satisfaction and high performance. A database system that contains a “Sharing of Knowledge” site would be helpful. Through this employees can share mistakes and successes with each other and communicate their needs and frustrations to management. One suggestion to improve this process would be to institute an open-door policy that allows employees to speak to anyone within the chain of command about his grievance. The appointment of an ombudsman would filter the frivolous complaints while serving as a counselor for employees. This would create a work environment that embraces open honest communication throughout the entire organization from the bottom up. Another suggestion is a “rate the boss survey”, an appraisal system which allows for bottom to top input. This will help departments identify workflow issues and problems in relationships between employee groups. Other helpful communications vehicles are newsletters, internal websites, bulletin boards, and meetings. Organizational Design Another factor contributing to employee mistrust and impacting the overall effectiveness of organizations today is lack of systems thinking. Many traditional organizations are organized functionally so that each department can establish standards and objectives based on its area of expertise. The focus is on developing skills and abilities within each function. As a result, some departments can evolve into independent entities focusing only on their own performance. While there are many advantages to the functional organization, this structure can result in problems that impacted the overall effectiveness of the operation and contribute to trust problems. The creation of separate empires is the likely cause of the other two problems – lack of communication and workflow issues. As separate empires develop, the shared vision is lost, people become frustrated, and the attrition rate increases. (Drucker 1954)

Organizations need to have a clear communication plan that links functional groups according to work flow. HR’s role in this is to work closely with management to help with the strategic planning processes. Measurement of turnover and rewards for systems thinking need to be put in place. Using traditional standards of measure may actually hurt systems thinking. Rewarding departmental performance can detract people from focusing on the strategic goal of the organization.

Top-down thinking contributes to problems with the workflow processes. If there is a lack of teamwork at the top, and no consultation on decision making, that behavior will trickle down to all staff levels. HR needs to play a strategic role by helping managers plan and set objectives that rewards staff for team behavior. HR also needs to work with the CEO in implementing a measurement and rewards program, perhaps one tied to bonuses, that rewards systems thinking in management.

Relationships between Employee Groups

To strengthen the trust between employees and management, team building activities that foster communication between the groups should be in place. An example is to honor employee birthdays by having a birthday cake once a month. Another example would be to get employees to volunteer to join an Enrichment Committee, which would be responsible for organizing employee activities such as the birthday cake, a summer a chili-cook off, or a company picnic. Also, all levels of management should attend all of these functions. Another way to improve labor relations and employee involvement would be to hold quarterly skip-level meetings where the employees can discuss their issues and ideas with senior management without the presence of supervisors. All staff meetings that occur quarterly would also assist in the improvement of communication. These activities will facilitate improved interactions between employees and senior management and it will create an environment that is open to new ideas and concerns. It will also give the employees a sense of empowerment because they will feel as if they had a voice in the operations and decisions that effect their organization. Conclusion The process of building employee trust and loyalty is essential to the success of an organization. The dominant factor that is crucial to this process is open communication and systems thinking. If employees feel they can not express themselves in a comfortable manner, then the entire organization will suffer. This will create an environment that is not conducive to learning and growth because no one will feel free to share new ideas for fear of reprisal. It is HR’s role and management’s responsibility to seek improved employee relations and communications because these factors directly effect the bottomline of the business. In order to achieve this, HR must take a systems thinking approach to management and develop a plan to achieve a high commitment work culture.


Bohlander, George W., Sherman, Arthur, Snell, Scott. 1998. Managing Human Resources, South-Western College Publishing, Cincinnati, Ohio.

Brache, Alan P., Rummler, Geary A. 1997. Managing an Organization as a System, University of Phoenix online library,
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Concilman, Jim. How Can Organizations Engender Employee Trust? Workforce Newsletter. 2006.
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Drucker, Peter. The Practice of Management. New York: Harper Collins, 1954.

Duck, Jeanie Daniel. “Managing Change: The Art of Balancing”, 1998.
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Glanz, Barbara. Rebuilding Trust in Turbulent Times. Newsletter 2006.
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Kline, Peter & Saunders, Bernard. 1998. Ten Steps To A Learning Organization, Great Ocean Publishers, Arlington, Virginia.

Lake, Gerry, Losey, Michael R., Ulrich, Dave. 1997. Tomorrow’s HR Management, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, New York.

One thought on “Retaining Employee Trust

  1. the examples you gave were relevant, they can be applied in any organisational system without having to alter any existing policies, this is a manner that ought to be adopted by organisations and become tradition

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