“Can I Trust You?”: Culture, Trust and Employee Retention

Last summer I wrote an article on my blog in response to the seemingly never-ending “employee retention” discussion taking place in many organizations. While there are many reasons why employees leave organizations, I surmised that stunted growth (and development) plays a role:

“… just like the errant spouse who feels as though they aren’t experiencing ‘growth and development’ in a stagnant marriage, many employees leave because they feel as though they’ve hit the wall within their current places of employment – that they don’t have access to tools that will aid in the growth and development of their careers.”

That summation is not without merit. i4cp’s recent “Employee Engagement: Strategies and Practices” report explored research that demonstrates a clear correlation between an engaged workforce and market performance. Still, engagement does not occur in a vacuum. Rather, organizational leaders must create a culture that promotes it.

In his recent Fast Company article “6 Signs Your Company Culture Stinks,” Matt Erlichman shared the tell-tale signs of a toxic company culture, which include lack of collaboration, unclear communication, poor leadership behavior modeling and unhealthy competitiveness. Essentially, Erlichman described a workplace devoid of foundational trust—and untrustworthy relationships do not promote organic growth (and development).

Is trust really that important to retention and engagement? In a word, yes. Leaders at 3M noted that trust is essential in promoting employee engagement, and they’ve developed a seven step engagement model to ensure they build trust in attitudes and behaviors (see i4cp’s “Employee Engagement: Strategies and Practices” report). Can employee loyalty and engagement (and ultimately retention) be garnered without trust? Though highly unlikely, there are still some employees who subscribe to the theory that “a job is a job,” even in a time when the economy continues to rebound and job opportunities are on the rise.

Organizational leaders would do well to foster trust among their employees, and adopting a proactive talent mobility plan (moving workers within an organization across functions, roles, businesses or business units, and/or across countries in order to address critical business needs) can be beneficial to that effort. i4cp’s “Building a Change-Ready Organization: Critical Human Capital Issues 2013” report (released earlier this year) revealed that having a proactive talent mobility plan helps distinguish high-performance organizations from low-performance organizations, and:

“…results in greater levels of engagement and retention among key talent by providing exposure to the broader business as well as the organization-wide career opportunities available to them.“

The research is clear: engagement correlates to retention, and trust is a critical component of engagement. Your employees may not verbalize their concerns by asking “can I trust you?,” but their actions may speak louder than words.

Dr. Tony Bolden is a director at i4cp and the chief evangelist of The Leader's Brand, a blog that covers sales, leadership development and personal branding. He's a sales professional, speaker, trainer, facilitator, and organizational behavior blogger. Tony earned an MBA in organizational psychology and development and a doctorate of management in organizational leadership.