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An Unhealthy Work Environment

Every day, workers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention battle infectious and chronic diseases, workplace hazards, and environmental health threats. It is meaningful work, according to a recent survey conducted by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. In fact, four out of five CDC employees like their roles and believe their work is important. But an outbreak of mistrust toward the agency's leadership has left the organization in critical condition.

A paltry 40 percent of CDC employees think their agency's leaders maintain high standards of honesty and integrity, according to the survey. That's down from 45 percent in 2004 and over 50 percent in 2002. What's causing this workplace vital sign to decline?

Here's one likely explanation. In 2003, the CDC undertook a massive strategic reorganization. Ever since, employees have expressed growing confusion about their roles at the agency. In 2002, before the shake-up began, a whopping 91 percent of CDC workers said they knew how their work related to the organization's goals and priorities. One year after the restructuring started, only 77 percent saw a correlation between their duties and the CDC's goals. Now, three years into the restructuring, only three out of four workers understand the purpose of their work. And when employees struggle to discern any link between their work and their organization's actual mission, the resulting frustration leads them to mistrust their bosses.

Changes, like the reorganization at the CDC, are bound to occur. Contrary to popular leadership belief, employees don't fear change; they fear loss. Specifically, they worry about what they might lose from the changes. Therefore, if leaders fail to communicate effectively how changes will affect each worker's role in the organization, those employees can only assume the worst. And, as the CDC example reveals, assumptions lead to diminishing trust.

If you want to maintain a healthy work environment, immunize your workers against suspicion and doubt. Infect them with a healthy dose of enlightenment.
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