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Employees Are Losing Confidence In Their Managers... And Maybe Vice Versa

With a new year comes the start of the season that every manager tends to dread: performance review season. I'm still waiting for a survey that asks respondents managers and employees alike how seriously they actually take these reviews.

However, since nobody seems to be asking that question, I'll pass on some results of another survey that ought to give every manager some reason to be concerned. Of course, most people tend to think negative surveys are exposing weaknesses in their peers, not themselves, and of course anybody who comes to the IndustryWeek forum section is by definition of sterling character, so we can assume this survey wasn't conducted at your companies.

Be that as it may, according to a study of more than 12,000 full-time U.S. workers, across all job levels and major industries, conducted by Watson Wyatt, employees are losing their confidence in senior management. Take a close look at the survey results here.

Now, an optimist might say, "Well, the survey merely indicates a 2% drop in trust and confidence since 2004." However, consider this: With only 49% now saying they trust their senior managers, that means that more than half of the employees surveyed have serious, deep-rooted problems with management. And whether that number is 49% this year, or 51% a couple years ago, the reality is that when a senior manager enters an employee breakroom (assuming such a thing ever happens), half of the people in the room don't trust that manager.

Stating the obvious, Ilene Gochman, national practice director for organization effectiveness at Watson Wyatt, points out, "This dip in ratings is concerning because employees' attitudes about their senior leaders are a key factor in building engagement. People want to work for companies where they have confidence in the organization and trust what senior management is doing. Fostering that trust is especially important in today's global market as it creates an environment in which employees understand that changes to the workplace may be necessary to remain competitive."

Now, as a manager myself, I've learned that one of the toughest things to accomplish in a performance review is to elicit an answer to an open-ended question like, say, "What are your top career goals?" or "Where do you see yourself in five years?" Maybe the reason for that is reflected in the survey too many senior managers aren't good communicators, so their employees don't see any point in sharing their wants and desires with somebody who only talks to them once a year. But it could also be the other way around, too I think we've all seen our share of congenital gripers who complain day after day about every work situation, but when given the chance to go on record with their manager and the HR department, all of a sudden develop laryngitis.

Gochman believes that "companies can create stronger teams and fuel excitement about the future if senior managers lay out the broad frameworks the firm will follow and supervisors reinforce that message." No doubt that's true, but she could probably take it a step further: If you've got employees that show no interest in learning what their company's goals are, and who resist every invitation to participate in ongoing dialogue with their managers, then maybe the problem isn't senior management at all.

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