PAUL HOLMES: Employers must be up front with employees, who are well equipped to cut through the spin

According to a new study from Towers Perrin, slightly more than half (51%) of American workers believe their companies generally tell employees the truth. These are presumably the same people who believe there's a miracle cure for hair loss, that the spam they just received really will let them see the Paris Hilton sex video for free, and that Fox News isn't joking when it describes itself as "fair and balanced."

According to a new study from Towers Perrin, slightly more than half (51%) of American workers believe their companies generally tell employees the truth. These are presumably the same people who believe there's a miracle cure for hair loss, that the spam they just received really will let them see the Paris Hilton sex video for free, and that Fox News isn't joking when it describes itself as "fair and balanced."

The rest of the American workforce, meanwhile, is increasingly cynical about the quality of information it gets from its employers. Half of the survey's respondents said the company tried too hard to "spin" the truth, with much of the egregious spinning coming from senior management on subjects such as company direction and business strategies. Interestingly, employees believe their companies are more scrupulous when it comes to shareholder and customer communication than they are about employee communication - perhaps because there are laws designed to punish companies that lie to their shareholders and, even on occasion, those that lie to customers. Lying to employees, however, is risk free, at least legally speaking, but it's also incredibly stupid. Staffers have better BS detectors than any other stakeholders. They experience how a company operates on a daily basis. They are aware of any disconnect between a company's values statement and how it behaves. Enron employees who were asked to set up a fake trading floor to fool visiting dignitaries knew the firm was falling short of its values statement. Similarly, those Wal-Mart employees locked in the stores after clocking out to work without overtime probably get a wry smile out of the claim that "respect for the individual" is one of the company's "founding beliefs." Even if employees don't experience this disconnect first hand, they have numerous other sources of information, from the old-fashioned grapevine to labor leaders to numerous websites like Vault.com, where disgruntled workers can air their grievances. The less credible company communication is, the more credible these sources become. The bigger reason it's stupid to spin to employees is that a well-informed workforce is one of the most powerful assets a company can have. A workforce that really understands what's happening within the company will be more productive, more loyal, and better able to contribute ideas for improved policies and processes. Honesty in employee communications provides employees with the tools they need to do their jobs better - dishonesty, or spin, as is almost always the case, is counterproductive. Spin is a transactional tool. But it's not a good tool for building relationships - especially the kind of loyal, trust-based relationships companies need with their employees.
  • Paul Holmes has spent the past 16 years writing about the PR business for publications including PRWeek, Inside PR, and Reputation Management. He is currently president of The Holmes Group and editor of www.holmesreport.com.

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