TRUST CASE STUDY: WHEN DATA TELLS YOU MORE THAN WHAT YOU BELIEVE

Do your employees trust you?  Do your employees believe you listen to what they have to say?
These are critical questions that leadership needs to understand.

Let’s look at these questions in the context of a case study:

ACME company hired us to study their organizational effectiveness over a two week period. This is a company that is successful in its industry and its leadership team views employees as an essential part of future success and growth. We mapped out the ACME employee experience and researched how their employees work together towards common goals and objectives.  

During the study, employees had to respond to the question: “Do you trust management to listen to your feedback?" to which they responded yes, no or not sure.  Let’s deconstruct employee responses to illustrate the power of Workrise analysis.

Level 1 data analysis:

Here is the distribution of employee responses:
Yes - 77.42% 
Not sure - 12.90%
No - 9.68%

At first glance, the data above looks pretty good and the leadership team could be satisfied. Most executives would leave things there.

Level 2 data analysis:

There is significant benefit to digging deeper and asking the following questions: 
What is the exact makeup of 77.42%?
Why are 22.58% of  employees saying "No" and "Not sure"?

Our next step was to map the responses against the organizational structure, to analyze outliers and correlations for further investigation.  It is indeed through this deeper research that we can gain the greatest insight into the organization.

We checked if there were differences between demographic groups. At ACME, where there was an even split between men and women, we found that women represented 75% of the "Not Sure" and 66% of the "No”. What pushed women to take a more negative stand towards management? Digging deeper, the data showed that most of these women had been in the company for more than 10 years. It is not uncommon that long-tenure employees are less engaged and become more apathetic or cynical over time. Yet, numerous academic studies have found that “individuals with longer organizational tenures tend to achieve higher levels of performance” (Engage your long-time employees to improve performance - James Harter - March 2015). So time might have come for ACME to work towards re-engaging their long-tenure employees.

Level 3 data analysis:

As another step in our analysis, we mapped employee responses to feelings / emotional states. The Workrise platform typically utilizes two different indexes to illustrate the emotional state of people: the NetAffect and the U-Index. The NetAffect  is the average of positive moods minus the average of negative moods. The U-Index is the proportion of time employees spend in an “unpleasant” or “undesirable” mood. Dr Kahneman and Dr Krueger qualify the overall mood of an employee as “unpleasant” or “undesirable” when he / she is engaged in an activity in which the dominant mood / emotion is negative.

At ACME, we found that employees  who responded “Yes” to our initial question, did not necessarily have a higher NetAffect average. Similarly, employees  who responded “No” or “Not sure” did not necessarily have a lower NetAffect average. What was striking was the makeup of the 77.42%. A significant percentage of employees spent a relatively high percentage of time in an unpleasant mood (U-Index) warranting further investigation. Indeed, trust in management to listen to feedback doesn't guarantee a positive employee experience from the employee's standpoint. In other words, as managers in a company, we feel better to know that our employees trust us to listen to them, but we cannot assume that this necessarily matters to them and that it is always a relevant data point indicating that they will stick with us. Oppositely, you can have a more unexpected situation, i.e. when people who do not trust you to listen to your feedback stay with the company, which is the case of the women mentioned above...    

Take away...

Employee experience data needs to be analyzed at different levels.

  1. For ACME, results from the Level 1 analysis looked great: a vast majority of the employees trusted management.
  2. Level 2 results were worrisome: the people who didn't trust management were mostly women. Not because there was discrimination against women but because management had stopped engaging their long-time employees.
  3. Level 3 results were surprising: Trust in management to listen to feedback was not a predictor of employee happiness or unhappiness.

Data is powerful; it can be interpreted in a variety of ways. When you analyze data, it is important to step back and look at the data from different angles to ensure you are not overlooking key issues or jumping to conclusions.

If you want to measure employee experience, you have to look at data about how employees live and work, as well as data about how they feel throughout the day. All this data can then be used for rich analysis towards understanding the workplace and making it smarter.