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The Benefit of Trust

A recent poll conducted by Maritz Research about workplace benefits reveals how leadership actions affect employee trust. In an online survey of over 1,300 randomly selected U.S. workers, nearly half of all respondents indicated that benefits are extremely important to them. Not surprisingly, those to whom benefits are very important said they chose their current employers because of their attractive benefit packages. Furthermore, those who are satisfied with their organization's benefits say they are likely to stay. But worth noting is how drastically employees' opinions of their leaders change when companies ask workers to give up or share in the cost of their benefits.

"Perhaps the most interesting finding was that taking away or reducing benefits was associated with greater job dissatisfaction than having no benefits at all," said Rick Garlick, Ph.D., director of consulting and strategic implementation at Maritz. Consider these examples from the survey: Only 27 percent of workers without benefits disagreed with the statement, "my company's leaders are ethical and honest," compared to 51 percent of employees with reduced or eliminated benefits. Forty-three percent of workers with no healthcare benefits disagreed that "senior management's actions are consistent with their words," versus 62 percent of employees asked to pay a greater share of their healthcare costs. In short, employees who never had healthcare or retirement benefits are more likely to trust their leaders than those workers who had benefits taken away.

As the Maritz survey illustrates, employees who join an organization because it offers something they value will feel betrayed if they suspect their interests and needs will now go unmet. It's the same whether we take back their healthcare benefits, or revoke the freedom we gave them to do their jobs; it's no different if we discontinue a 401(k) match, or stop promoting from within. Once they perceive, whether accurately or not, that management changed or somehow misrepresented the company's values, employees lose trust in their leaders, and they feel foolish for having trusted their employers in the first place.

Before you ask employees to pay more for their benefits, or to forgo them altogether, ask yourself if the increase to the bottom line is worth the decrease in employee trust. And when you're looking to earn and maintain employee trust, make sure you're living by the values you profess.
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