Worried About Engagement? Better Worry About Employee Trust First

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Apr 30, 2014

According to the American Psychological Association’s 2014 Work and Well-Being Survey released last week, only half of U.S employees believe their employer is open and upfront with them, indicating that despite the mending U.S economy and the return of many organizations’ profitability employees are still struggling to trust their organizational leaders.

This distrust comes with serious negative consequences.

The APA reports that trust and engagement play important roles in the workplace, accounting for 50.8 percent of the variance in employee well-being. In predicting trust, the dimensions of employee involvement, recognition, and communication predicted 54 percent of the variance.

Survey actually finds HIGHER engagement levels

Employees reported having greater trust in companies when the organization endeavored to recognize them for their contributions, provide opportunities for involvement, and communicate effectively. In predicting work engagement, employees’ positive perceptions of their employer’s involvement, growth and development opportunities, and health and safety efforts accounted for 27.1 percent of the variance.

An interesting and positive finding from the APA survey is in strong contrast to the recent reports that have suggested upwards of 70 percent of employees in the U.S. are not engaged or are actively disengaged.

The APA’s Work and Well-Being Survey finds approximately 50 percent of working Americans reporting average levels of engagement, with around a quarter reporting low or very low levels, and just under a quarter reporting high or very high levels. The mean engagement score for working Americans was 3.62 on a six-point scale (zero representing never being engaged and six representing always being engaged).

Additionally, the survey finds that although 70 percent of U.S workers report that they are satisfied with their jobs, just 47 percent continue to be satisfied with employee recognition practices, and 49 percent with growth and development opportunities offered by their organizations.

Taking a closer look at the statistics on trust, about one-third of respondents say their employers are not always honest and truthful, and nearly a quarter say they don’t trust their employers. Interestingly though, this lack of trust does not necessarily correlate to feelings of unfair or bad working environments.

What if employees don’t trust their leaders?

apa-center-for-organizational-excellence-april-2014The survey also found that 64 percent of employed adults feel that their organization treats them fairly, despite that only 52 percent believe their employer is open and upfront with them.

Does this mean as an organization you can cultivate fair and honest practices without any transparency? Does this mean that leaders get a pass on being trustworthy as long as they provide safe working environments? These are interesting data to be sure.

But, perhaps the bigger question is how productive are employees who don’t trust their leaders? What levels of discretionary effort and personal development will employees expend who feel physically safe but don’t trust their leaders?

As a leader, the question I would ask is, “how long can I rely on an employee population that doesn’t trust me?

The APA’s findings come after surveying 1,562 adults aged 18 plus who reside in the U.S. and who are employed full-time, part-time, or self-employed.

This originally appeared on China Gorman’s blog at