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Corporate Cultures

This Employee Engagement Strategy Actually Works—So Why Aren’t More Companies Using It?

In the ubiquitous game of business buzzword bingo, astute observers will have noticed that “trust” has lately been gaining fast on “employee engagement” and “empowerment.” And for good reason, too. A variety of factors old and new—ranging from the #MeToo movement to the widening gap between employee and executive compensation—has contributed to employees’ general lack of trust in the people and firms they work for and with. Indeed, according to a 2017 survey by Ernst & Young, less than half of global respondents had a “great deal of trust” in their current employers, boss or team/colleagues.

This trust gap is not simply a concern because of company morale or employee retention (although it certainly affects both). A recent study from Tolero Solutions, an organizational consulting firm, found that 45% of employees say “lack of trust in leadership is the biggest issue impacting their work performance.”

So what should a well-meaning company do? There already exists a considerable amount of serious research and useful journalism addressing this topic, much of which boils down to a list of by-now-familiar action steps:

  • Avoid corner-cutting
  • Increase transparency
  • Improve communication
  • Level the playing field
  • Admit mistakes
  • Apologize when wrong
  • Listen more closely

All of the above are certainly as worthwhile to pursue as they are difficult to achieve. But there is often a simpler way for companies to build trust: extend it on faith.

That’s one of the key insights from a growing body of research undertaken by LRN, an ethics and compliance consulting firm: Companies that assume employees will generally act in a trustworthy manner are often best at earning trust in return. Moreover, these “high-trust environments” are “11 times more likely to see higher levels of innovation relative to their competition, and six times more likely to achieve higher levels of performance compared with others in their industry.”

What does it mean to extend trust on faith? What it doesn’t mean is letting employees do what they like while management hopes for the best. Rather, organizations should focus on crafting their policies (e.g., vacation, dress, travel, expenses, procurement, etc.) in such a way as to empower employees to make the widest range of decisions on their own (with the company monitoring these decisions and their outcomes in fiduciarily appropriate ways, of course).

The “math” of such employee-centric organizations is both simple and intuitive: employees who are trusted become more empowered, which leads to them feeling better about themselves, which leads to more positive views of their job and employer, which leads to greater collaboration and risk-taking, which leads to outperformance and loyalty. As Dan Ruch, our founder and CEO, explains: “Culture change happens when you trust employees. Clients tell us they see real transformation after employees are given greater opportunities to make choices that benefit themselves as well as their company.”

Key Takeaway: Every progressive-minded organization wants to increase employee trust, and more often than not the quickest way to achieve that is to extend it first.

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All Tags: Corporate Culture

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