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The low trust and high burn out challenge

Authors: The Work Foundation Jane Sullivan

23 August 2010

HR Review cite a recent report from Ceridian that confidence and trust in employers has been significantly eroded during the recession. The report shows employees have experienced frozen pay (37%), changes to roles as a result of reorganisation (12%), longer working hours (44%) and challenges to work life balance (40%). 

The really important statistic in terms of employee engagement is that 60% of respondents say they are tired and demotivated. At a time when the UK is struggling to lift itself out of recession, organisations need engaged and motivated staff – people who are innovative, working creatively, energised and coming up with better and new ways of doing things. The public sector is about to take a massive hit – going into this with staff already at risk of burn out doesn’t bode well.

There is no easy, silver bullet solution to this dilemma. Times are tough and people know this. But it’s not all bad news. Through this recession we have seen many good examples of organisations holding onto their training and development budgets as a way of maintaining morale and building the skills and employability of their people. We have seen positive cooperation between employers and staff to adopt innovative working practices to minimise redundancies. Many employers are hungry for good people – despite the recession, the war for talent continues.

And yes, there are employers who know it’s an employer's market and treat their staff with contempt. In the long run, they may be the losers in this game – when things turn around, their top talent will desert them. Those that will win are those that, despite the difficulties, continue to value and engage their staff:


  • Through quality people management – where managers take the time out of their increasingly pressured days to talk to, and most importantly, listen to their staff.
  • By keeping people’s skills up to date, and where possible playing to their strengths.
  • Through keeping watch on people’s wellbeing – including the rise of ‘presenteeism’, where people working ill out of a fear of being absent  poses a great risk to productivity.

We must recognise that the erosion of trust and confidence in managers is not a new problem – rather it is one exacerbated by the downturn. Good leadership is of course essential. But how to rebuild that trust and confidence in employers? On a day to day basis, it’s the quality of line managers that will really make the difference. Emerging findings from our Future of HR research on ‘the deal’ between employers and employees show that the quality of the relationship with the line manager is central to how these two groups interact. So, supporting line managers will help them in turn to support and make space to listen to their staff. Line managers may say they don’t have the time but in the long run, such investment will pay dividends.

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