After a year of upheaval, do you still have your employees’ trust? Here’s why it matters.

Worn out. Skeptical. Disengaged.

If those words fit you or the employees you supervise, you have company. Employees in many workplaces have lost trust in their employers. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, one in three of the 33,000 employees surveyed don’t trust their employer, with the distrust percentage growing the lower one travels in the organization. This distrust eats away at employee morale and commitment, saps employee performance and drains an organization’s productivity.

Want proof? The Center for Neuroeconomics Studies gathered data from a dozen employers that launched policy and other changes designed to raise trust. Employees that worked for employers that had the top score for trust reported that they were 76% more engaged at work, 50% more productive and had 106% more energy than those whose employers scored in the bottom.

Further, 60% of employees that worked for high-trust employers enjoyed their jobs more, felt 70% more aligned with their organization’s purpose, and 50% planned to remain with their employer in the next year. Corroborating this, the Trust Edge Leadership Institute’s recent research found that 21% of 1,202 working-age adults surveyed reported willingness to work longer hours if they trusted their organization’s leadership. A full one-third said they would stay longer with an employer whose leaders kept their promises.

How COVID impacted trust

As you might expect, COVID-19 has impacted employer/employee trust. Virtual workplace and physical distancing make it harder for managers and supervisors to connect with employees, and for employees to meaningfully interact with their coworkers.

The pandemic also created organizational and emotional chaos, pulling the rug out from under employers and employees alike. Many employees tumbled helplessly off their career paths, not knowing where or when they’d reach the bottom.

It wasn’t just the downsizing, restructuring and layoffs that led employees to feel distrustful. It was how their employer’s leaders managed these changes, often by holding information close to their vest and only announcing layoffs and furloughs the day the ax fell.

[Related: The way that companies address employee stress now is going to be key to a successful 2021]

Worse, many employers failed to acknowledge the human cost of their decisions, and didn’t support those furloughed, laid off or even those retained. Employers often seemed to expect employee survivors to behave as if the changes hadn’t happened and to focus on getting their jobs done, while they sandwiched in their departed colleagues’ duties. Readers who called me in the last year made statements such as “I gave my best to this company and this is my reward?” and “I’m expected to handle a double workload. I’m taken advantage of, while my CEO gets a huge bonus.”

Here’s what employers need to realize but often don’t: When employees learn that their company’s leaders don’t keep employee interests in mind as they make decisions, it sucks productive energy from employees. They worry whether they will have their jobs a month from now. Employee engagement and commitment plummet. Morale suffers.

Employees feel it’s every person for themselves and could care less about going above and beyond. They grow hesitant to take extra risks, fearing that their managers won’t back them up if the risk doesn’t pay off. They fear sharing bad news and withhold information, leaving problems to fester. Employees question their employer’s decisions and actions. They protect their self-interest at the expense of their company. They quit.

[Related: Don’t let pandemic-induced burnout claim your best employees]

Trust is the adhesive that holds employees to an organization. When employees trust their company’s leaders, they can focus on doing their jobs. What happens when trust goes missing? Productivity follows.

Note: Next Tuesday’s article focuses on how employers can earn back employees’ trust.

Lynne Curry | Alaska Workplace

Lynne Curry writes a weekly column on workplace issues. She is author of “Managing for Accountability”; “Solutions” and “Beating the Workplace Bully” and Curry is President of Communication Works Inc. Send your questions to her at or follow her on Twitter @lynnecurry10.