Rebuilding employee trust a business imperative

Leadership, communication key to getting stronger in the broken places

By Claudine Kapel

It’s a fresh new year, and chances are your organization is keen to drive performance and results to new heights in the coming months.

But are your employees really on board with that?

Many organizations acknowledge the past few years have been challenging – and they’ve had to make a lot of tough decisions along the way. For some, this has included cutting investments in human resource programs and eliminating jobs. This has left many employees grappling with how to do more with less – and sometimes for less.

At a time when the economy continues its struggle to recover, a recent study suggests organizations have incurred some serious collateral damage in the way of reduced employee trust and engagement levels that also need to be healed.

To paraphrase Ernest Hemingway, when organizations look to how their employment proposition has been unfolding, they are finding many broken places.

Consider the results of a recent study by Canadian Management Centre (CMC) and Ipsos Reid, which paints a troubling picture of today’s organizational climate. Key findings include:

  • 61 per cent of employees don’t trust senior leaders.
  • Less than four in 10 feel senior leaders are doing a good job of communicating on what is happening in their workplace.
  • Only 27 per cent report they are highly engaged in the workplace – and 23 per cent indicate they are not at all engaged.

The survey covered the perspectives of 1,200 working Canadians and 484 human resource professionals.

“We knew that leadership trust and confidence was an issue in Canada, but we were surprised to reveal the actual low level of trust that working Canadians have” in their organizational leaders, CMC reported in a release.

“Organizations need to take notice and properly address the issues around employee engagement, trust and confidence in their leaders, because getting it right will ultimately benefit their bottom line and long-term success.”

CMC notes employee engagement is “a leading indicator of performance and competitiveness” adding employee engagement is distinct from employee satisfaction and goes much deeper. “An engaged employee cares about the future of the organization and is willing to invest on their own initiative to see that it succeeds.”

When comparing confidence in senior leadership across industries, CMC found telecom/information technology ranked the highest (55 per cent), followed by banking and financial services (52 per cent), and education (46 per cent). The industries with the lowest confidence in senior leadership were transportation (32 per cent) and public administration and government (35 per cent).

CMC found demographic patterns in the survey findings, indicating younger employees are less engaged. For example, only 24 per cent of Generation Y respondents (18 – 31 years of age) and 22 per cent of Generation X respondents (32 – 47 years of age) reported being highly engaged. In contrast, 29 per cent of baby boomers (48 – 66 years of age) and 49 per cent of traditionalists (67+ years of age) said they were highly engaged.

The survey findings indicate the level of employee engagement also varies by sector, with retail (18 per cent) and transportation (20 per cent) having the lowest levels and education (41 per cent) having the highest levels.

CMC suggests organizations need to focus on three key areas in order to rebuild trust:

  • Building employee awareness and understanding of the “big picture.”
  • Improving the flow and frequency of communication.
  • Forging connections between leaders and employees to close the gap on the perceived distance.

What’s especially important about the CMC’s findings is they suggest the cornerstone of high performance is not a human resource solution, but rather a way of operating and communicating that is shaped and reinforced by all organizational leaders.

That, as Hemingway might say, is the key to becoming stronger in the broken places. 

Claudine Kapel is principal of Kapel and Associates Inc., a Toronto-based human resources and communications consulting firm specializing in the design and implementation of compensation and total rewards programs. For more information, visit

Claudine Kapel

Claudine Kapel is principal of Kapel and Associates Inc., a human resources consulting firm specializing in compensation design, performance management, and employee communications. Claudine is also the co-author of The HR Manager’s Guide to Total Rewards and Straight Talk on Managing Human Resources.
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