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Building Employee Trust

Workers were more anxious and less trusting of employers in 2023, according to research from Visier. Here are some ways HR leaders can support workers through periods of change.

By Maggie Mancini

The world of HR is always changing, though the rapid shifts in priorities and procedures have not been welcomed by everyone. As terms like “change fatigue” and “productivity theater” make headlines, employees and employers are increasingly butting heads about the best strategies for investing in artificial intelligence, returning to in-office work, and navigating economic uncertainty. In fact, a recent survey from Visier reveals that employees were more anxious and less trusting of their employers in 2023 than in 2022, indicating a renewed focus on the employee experience in improving job satisfaction, motivation, and retention.  

To effectively build trust, organizations must focus on developing leadership and management effectiveness, as managers are the first and often main contact to the employee experience at work, says Dr. Andrea Derler, principal of research and value at Visier. For example, this may include the enablement of people managers to figure out more personalized work from home rules for various team members, but in a way that they are reflective of goal setting and performance management processes. Managers can help mitigate the risk of employee turnover and establish a more trusting environment to help meet business goals, she says. 

“In today’s fast-paced work environment, organizations must conduct regular engagement polls to show employees that their perspectives are important and that leadership is listening to them,” Derler says. “The second step requires leadership to make a pointed effort to address those concerns. By clearly and transparently addressing and communicating both the feedback and the actions taken, HR and business leaders can foster a culture of trust.”  

When it comes to burnout, millennials (83%) and Gen Z (77%) employees are experiencing more workplace anxiety than their older counterparts, in part due to the widespread availability of information on macroeconomic, environmental, and political issues happening around the world and in part because they are still learning to navigate work and business.  

Derler says that, as a result, organizations need to first understand if their younger workforce is indeed more burnt out than others, and if so, where the core of the issue lies. To accomplish this, it’s essential to get to know them better and understand if there are truly differences in behaviors based on people data.  

“Tracking differences in the workforce such as productivity and performance, burnout levels, and employee engagement, can be looked at with a special eye on these populations in question,” Derler says. “At the same time, it’s important to avoid forcing blanket policies such as RTO policies but personalize the experience where possible.”  

Derler explains that younger generations may be more likely to want to be in the office than older generations, especially in the first six to 18 months of new employment, to onboard and socialize at their new workplace. Therefore, enabling people managers to figure out more personalized work-from-home decisions that are aligned with goal-setting and performance management processes is crucial to supporting young employees through periods of rapid change. 

The survey finds that 81% of respondents are concerns that their company will not offer pay raises that keep up with inflationary demands. This comes as compensation is top of mind for many employees due to the rising cost of education and living, Derler says.  

“Nowadays, pay information and misinformation about compensation are widely shared online, which can be confusing for people new to the workforce,” Derler says. “To address these concerns, it’s essential to ensure that managers and HR counterparts are knowledgable and armed with data when it comes to compensation decisions and the accompanying conversations.”  

Having a better understanding of the market value of jobs can help both employees and managers have data-based, effective discussions around their pay by helping them understand how much a role is worth and what employees can reasonably expect to be paid. By allowing managers to have meaningful knowledge about their available compensation budgets and how they align with the average compensation for similar roles in the market, as well as the possible company-specific links to talent retention, they can navigate compensation challenges and conversations more effecitvely, Derler says.  

Organizations are facing unprecedented levels of disruption, with leadership changes, layoffs, and RTO mandates ranking as the three most disruptive changes to their workplaces in 2023. The more disruption there is, Derler explains, the more reason organizations have to track employee sentiment and behaviors through people analytics to keep an eye on the impact to employees which, in turn, impacts the business.  

“People analytics can help track workforce trends, and how they vary by employee populations,” Derler says. “For example, after an event like a business restructing or acquisition, do employee engagement results vary by region, business function, employee tenure, or age, and do we see impacts on productivity or performance outcomes? Such granular information can inform HR strategies to ensure the continuation of productivity and performance.”  

It’s important to avoid too many disruptions. However, if there is no other way, Derler suggests a few top strategies to help people deal with disruption a little easier.  

  • Avoid too many manager changes for employees and teams. These changes feel the most disruptive as strategies and communication patterns change and a transition period that is needed with each new manager. 
  • When designing teams, default to smaller units rather than bigger units. Visier finds that smaller teams can be more cohesive and have lower resignation rates, so if companies have to restructure a unit, keep in mind the benefits for smaller spans of control or team sizes each manager can meaningfully change. 
  • Overcommunicate the business case of every change. In addition, add specific steps taken by senior management about what is being done to help employees transition. For example, during a restructuring, make sure that employees in new roles are clear about new business objectives and have the development and learning opportunities that they need.  

By implementing these strategies, organizations can navigate disruption more effectively and support their employees through periods of change. 

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