Debi O’Donovan, editor of Employee Benefits: Rebuilding trust is vital task after the recession

On 26 January, it was announced that the UK economy had emerged from its 18-month recession with 0.1% growth for the previous three months. Despite the fact that few expected the news to have a dramatic impact on people’s day-to-day lives, many of us have started to see a subtly more hopeful business outlook.

There has been a creeping feeling that we are out of the worst and, for some people, that means an opportunity to look around for better jobs – especially those staff who feel they have been treated badly by their employers.

Our senior reporter, Nicola Sullivan, has written an article exploring how employers can re-engage their workforces as the country emerges from recession. The key message is that if your staff have become disengaged from your organisation, then you have a tough road to negotiate. This is especially worrying in the light of last month’s research from PricewaterhouseCoopers which showed that one in three UK workers would leave their employer for a new job if they could.

Recently I read about the study, The behavourist visits the factory: increasing productivity using simple framing manipulations by Tanjim Hossain and John List (December 2009) in which they found that the fear of loss was a better motivator than the prospect of gain.

The study focused on how a bonus plan was communicated to factory workers. One group was told they had been provisionally awarded the bonus, but if they missed their targets, they would lose it. The other group had to meet targets to earn the bonus. The result was that the first group performed better overall – the fear of losing what they had already earned was a strong motivator.

This led me to think that good opportunities may exist for those employers that realised the importance of keeping good reward (both extrinsic and intrinsic) and benefits packages during tough times. They can communicate this fact to hold on to staff and try to keep them engaged as business begins to pick up again. But I do wonder about employers which cut pay, bonuses and benefits and whether it is possible to rebuild trust and re-engage staff.