The art of winning and retaining staffers' trust

shaking hands graphic

Anyone who has moseyed down the self-help section of the local bookstore, probably has picked up on the mantra that positive relationships are built on trust. Employer-employee bonds are no different, according to research published in the January-February issue of Harvard Business Review. The study reports that employees at high-trust companies experience 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days and 76% more engagement. Here’s how operators can start putting those numbers on the board.

Putting in the effort

At the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, Kris Klinger, assistant vice president of retail operations, had to work to earn employee trust in a union-heavy environment. “Getting them to engage with managers was challenging early on,” Klinger says.

To show employees the retail and dining team cared, dining services invested in training so that senior managers could develop middle managers, and those managers can advance the careers of associates. Klinger is conscious of a trust tax. “If trust is high, it’s easy to get stuff done,” he says, which is why he also preaches honesty and owning mistakes at every level of management.

An armed forces-approved method for worker engagement helps Northwell Health keep employee trust. The hospital system, with 19 locations in New York, deploys staff-led committees for each department to solve issues that are important to them, a model adopted from the Air Force.

For instance, patients often leave personal belongings on tray tables that must be cleared during meal times. During one committee meeting, delegates from food services and nursing came up with a solution: Dining employees would call the nurses’ station 15 minutes before delivery, and nurses would clear tray tables before they arrived. “Management is just there to support the councils and not drive them,” says Eric Sieden, director of nutrition and food services at three Northwell Health locations.

Knowing what works

Both Northwell Health and Virginia-based Sunrise Senior Living survey employees to measure trust. The most important indicator of trust in Sunrise’s annual survey is employee engagement, says Tim Whelan, vice president of dining services. He watches for unrealistic goal setting, which could hinder engagement and be a real trust-breaker, he says. Northwell Health’s online survey is anonymous, allowing employees to indicate how they feel about department heads.

But just gathering the information isn’t enough, Sieden says. Team leaders follow up with a town hall meeting to review results and action plans to address the input. “The bottom line is that the employees feel that the information will be used to make improvements,” he says. 

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