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Why Trust Beats Employee Engagement

Why Trust Beats Employee Engagement

What is employee engagement?

As with so many concepts in the people and culture space, there are many different definitions of engagement. We would summarize them to say that most people would define a highly engaged company as one where:

Employees feel aligned around and committed to an organization and its goals, and act with their colleagues to ensure success, beyond expectations – regardless of whether it is beyond their job role or self-interest. Their high level of engagement drives productivity and shareholder returns and reduces cost by retaining talent.

We don’t disagree with the idea that committed and loyal employees are a key building block of business success. What we do take issue with building a workplace where the focus is top-down and oriented solely on getting the most out of employees, whether it is good for them or not.

Creating engagement is not something a leader can directly influence. Most engagement models assess environmental factors, not actual drivers.  Managers can’t directly control whether someone gives extra, if they feel ‘time flies during their work day,’ or has a best friend at work.

Engagement is also very personal. What makes me happy at work may drive you absolutely nuts (think dogs at work) or simply miss the mark.

Going beyond engagement

At Great Place to Work™, we’ve spent the last 30 years researching the best workplaces around the world. We’ve captured the workplace experience of over 130 million employees to find out what produces both a high-performing and healthy workplace. The answer is trust, not engagement.

What is a high-trust workplace?

A high-trust workplace puts the employee experience, not profit, at the center. Company cultures where employees trust the people they work for, have pride in what they do, and enjoy the people they work with.  

Employees at high-trust workplaces do happily give extra effort that drives growth, but in a sustainable way that goes far beyond engagement.

Great Place to Work-Certified organization’s employees score 25-50% higher on key factors like willingness to recruit talent, intention to stay a long time, and pride in their workplace than the average US workplace.  And Best Workplaces score even higher!

But above and beyond those standard measures of success, employees at high-trust organizations also say that they can be themselves at work, that they are treated fairly regardless of their age, race, gender, sexual orientation and other demographic factors, and that theirs is a psychologically and emotionally safe place to work.

They look forward to coming to work, feel that they make a difference at work, and that management cares about them as a person, not just as an employee. 

Are they engaged?  Yes.  But even better, they are happy, healthy, and whole people who can contribute to growing a business for the long-term, since they won’t be burnt out, feel left out because of unfair treatment, or practicing “presenteeism” instead of fully participating.

Trust fuels performance

A trusting work environment leads to sustainable benefits for the organization.

Drives revenue: We’ve proven that the comparative cumulative stock market returns among the publicly-held Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For® are nearly 3x greater than the market average.

Leads to innovation: The most innovative companies achieve 5.5x the median year-over-year growth compared to the least innovative companies. Learn more in our Innovation Insights series.

If you want to get a pulse on how much trust is at the center of your workplace, ask about Great Place to Work survey and Certification™.


Julie Musilek