It's an old saw in the internal communications business that front line employees don't trust senior management and the most credible source of information for them is their immediate supervisor. UK site HR Zone recently reported on a self-serving study by HR consultancy BlessingWhite that confirms this workplace truth. BlessingWhite's study found that, while about three quarters of workers trust their direct supervisors, less than half have the same confidence in senior management.
On top of that, the study revealed that half of middle managers are planning or seriously considering leaving their current thankless jobs this year. HR Zone quotes Tom Barry of BlessingWhite:
"Our research has revealed that many senior managers appear to be issuing strategies from an ivory tower. Their direction can't filter through middle managers that don't trust them....Business leaders must give middle managers the structure and tools they need to help staff establish a strong connection with, and commitment to, their work....But they must also find a genuine, authentic leadership voice themselves - one that inspires trust. The most successful companies make employee engagement an ongoing priority, not a once-a-year event. Without trust, engagement initiatives can seem hollow."
For most employee communicators reading that quote, the response would be "Well, duh." We all know that. We live with it every day. The big question is why a new paradigm isn't emerging in business today that turns this unfortunate reality into regrettable history.
The good news of the study: a much higher percentage (59%) of Millennials -- the folks born in the 80s who are relatively new to the workforce -- trust senior management. This means there's hope, but the window isn't going to be open forever. The story of Generation Y could turn into Generation Sigh: how business leaders missed an opportunity of a lifetime to engage the next wave of workers.
The solution is not rocket surgery. What's required is for corporate leaders to reach out to their employees and connect with them in ways that earn trust. Right now a lot of hopeful effort is being put into social media as a way of using technology to renew that broken connection and close the gap. But positive change won't happen unless CEOs take the problem seriously and devote the right amount of attention to it. And it's up to us to give them the business case, the right advice, and the right strategies to make it happen.