A Huge Global Survey Says This is The Key to Being Happy at Work

Richardson, from HBO's 'Deadwood', has a happy bond of trust with his employer
Richardson, from HBO’s Deadwood, has a happy bond of trust with his employer | Source: HBO

We all want to have a relatively happy and positive experience at work, but for many people, the day is rife with unpleasantries. Whether it be trying hours spent face-to-face with unruly customers, toxic co-workers creating turmoil amongst the cubicles, or Orwellian workplace rules causing you to have a mental break, there are many potential hangups keeping you from being happy at work. But we’re getting a more comprehensive picture of what the underlying issues truly are when it comes to workplace happiness, and if new research is any indication, it all comes down to trust.

A survey, comprised of the opinions of nearly 10,000 workers between the ages of 19 and 68 in eight different countries, found that when it comes to general employee happiness, a sense of trust in their company was the most important factor. The survey, conducted by Ernst & Young, found that less than half of the workers asked had a “great deal of trust” in their employers, and similar attitudes toward their co-workers.

Where trust is lacking, so is contentedness and happiness. Writing in a follow-up in the Harvard Business Review, Ernst & Young’s Global Diversity & Inclusiveness Officer Karyn Twaronite writes, “… People believe a high level of trust in their company would have a major influence on them being happier at work, staying at the company, doing higher-quality work, being more engaged and productive, and recommending the company to others.”

In other words, if you want to be happy at work, you need to trust your company, boss, and work mates.

Trust in the workplace

A loyal employee with trust in his heart
A loyal employee with trust in his heart | Source: iStock

As for the details of the study, which sorted the answers between generational groups (Generation X, Z, etc.), trust was found to be lacking the most in the United States, United Kingdom, and Japan. The opposite was true for employees in developing or emerging markets, like India, Mexico, and Brazil. Members of Generation X were the least likely to say they held a “great deal of trust” in their current employer.

As for what respondents deemed fundamental in determining whether their employer was trustful?

“Globally, the factor most frequently cited as ‘very important’ in determining trust in an employer is ‘delivers on promises.’ For Gen Z respondents, it’s a tie between ‘equal opportunity for pay and promotion’ and ‘opportunities to learn and advance in my career.'”

On the flip side, “Among respondents ages 19-68 that place ‘very little’ to ‘no trust’ in their current employer, the top four factors that contribute to this lack of trust are tied to compensation –including ‘equal opportunity for pay and promotion’– along with ‘lack of strong leadership,’ ‘too much employee turnover’, and ‘not fostering a collaborative work environment.'”

Clearly, money plays a role, and unfortunately, other recent global surveys regarding compensation budgets don’t seem to indicate much forward progress in employee pay in the next couple of years. Unhappy workers are likely going to remain unhappy.

Why employees don’t trust their employers

A skeptical employee
A skeptical employee | Source: iStock

While compensation and money is a part of the issue, what other factors are driving employees to distrust their employers? There are a lot of reasons, and it’s the pervasive level of distrust between the workers of the world and business owners and management — you could call it the destruction or reconfiguration of the “social contract” — that has many people angry about the current economic landscape.

The Ernst & Young survey gives us some answers, but distrust runs deeper for many people than just dollars and cents. Many workers are facing job insecurity like never before, thanks to increasingly ubiquitous technologies and globalization. American workers are getting the shaft in other ways as well, as some companies abuse visa and foreign worker programs in an effort to keep costs down. Not to mention the concerted efforts between business-friendly politicians and big business interests to fray the power of workers groups and unions.

Simply put, there are a lot of reasons for employees not to trust their employers. You never know if you’re going to be next on the chopping block after your CEO or a group of shareholders decides to move your job to Mexico.

For workers, it can be hard to find a level of trust with their employers. For that reason, a lot of people aren’t very happy in their current jobs or situations. And unfortunately, there isn’t an easy fix.

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