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Alight named by Fortune as one of the ‘100 Best Companies to Work For’ in 2024

Building trust: Meeting employees in the moments that matter most — an immediate imperative for employers

By Stephan Scholl

Trust sits at the heart of the employee-employer relationship. As employers, we trust our people to bring their best selves to work, follow company practices and procedures and protect the business by behaving ethically at work and elsewhere. By the same token, employees trust their employer to provide fair compensation, a safe work environment free from discrimination of any kind, and opportunities for growth and advancement, regardless of ethnicity, gender identity, religion, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status.

When mutual trust is present, great things happen. In companies where trust is strong, employees report 74% less stress, 106% more energy, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction with their lives and 40% less burnout than their counterparts at low-trust companies. Conversely, a lack of trust creates a high-stress environment where no one is performing at their best. Productivity, creativity, energy and innovation plummet and the organization loses its competitive edge. The connection couldn’t be clearer.

A culture of trust is essential for success. Yet more than one-third (35%) of employees say they don’t trust their employers. Think about that for a moment. One out of every three employees distrust their employer. As leaders, we should find that incredibly concerning, especially as the shift to remote and hybrid work makes it easier than ever for people to change jobs if they are dissatisfied in any way. If ever we needed an immediate call to action, this is it.

Fostering and maintaining a culture of trust has never been more important than it is right now. But where do we begin? Many factors go into building a culture of trust – open and transparent communication, a sense of purpose and authentic and approachable leadership, to name just a few. Yet one factor is consistently overlooked: compassion. Today’s employees want to know their employer cares about them – and what they stand for. If their current job doesn’t respect what they value most, they will find a job that does. It’s as simple as that.

In companies where trust is strong, employees report less stress, higher productivity and less burnout than their counterparts at low-trust companies.

Caring for the whole employee

A comprehensive benefits program is table stakes. That’s nothing new. But in this Era of the Employee, employers are recognizing even more the need to adopt a holistic approach to employee wellbeing. And they’re working hard to make that a reality. Investments in benefits programs have surged in recent years, particularly those focused on helping people improve their physical, financial and mental/emotional wellbeing. Yet just 40% of U.S. employees rate their overall wellbeing positively, according to our Winning with Wellbeing research. Even more troubling, just over one-third (35%) trust their employer to do right by them when it comes to benefits. You read that right – a whopping 60% of employees rate their wellbeing negatively and nearly two-thirds believe their employer doesn’t have their best interests at heart when designing benefits offerings. Clearly, not a positive employee experience.

As leaders, we must ask the right questions. Where are we falling short when it comes to demonstrating care and compassion? How can we better meet the needs of our people and their families? And how can benefits help us build a culture of trust? Let’s start with one basic, but critical question: What does it mean to do benefits right?

Personalization is vital

Doing benefits right means recognizing that a one-size-fits-all approach simply doesn’t cut it anymore. It never really did. Instead, we should be focused on offering a broad, flexible range of benefits powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and supported by live decision-support. In other words, humans and technology working together to ensure people reap the greatest value from the investment their employer is making in them. 

As leaders, we must pay attention to what people need. During the pandemic, for instance, employers recognized that employees and their families needed greater mental health support. They responded by bolstering their mental health offerings. By developing benefits programs that meet their people’s needs, they created strong levels of trust.

To be clear, a huge investment in new benefits is not always necessary. Often, it’s simply a matter of tweaking existing offerings. Take the example of a Fortune 50 retailer that partnered with Alight to position its benefits to build a more stable workforce. The company already offered a tuition reimbursement program. Employees were overwhelmingly in favor of the program, but it was drastically underutilized. We set out to discover why. Quickly, it became evident that employees didn’t have the money to pay their tuition upfront and then submit for reimbursement. The company switched to a tuition assistance program and utilization soared. Because they felt seen and supported, employee trust in their employer grew exponentially.

Meeting changing needs

As people go through life, their benefit needs change. So does their need for guidance in using their benefits wisely. Young workers are likely to appreciate decision support as they choose a health plan for the first time, buy a house or start a family. As workers approach middle age, financial planning takes on heightened importance, as they seek to ensure they’re on track for retirement. They may also be caring for aging parents and in need of flexible work schedules and time off for caregiving responsibilities. For older employees, financial well-being programs are paramount, along with assistance in finding suitable health coverage in retirement. These valuable benefits demonstrate their employer’s compassion. They create appreciation, loyalty and trust.

As leaders, we have a responsibility to create an engaging benefits experience that helps our people make better decisions about their health and financial wellbeing. But more than that, benefits create an atmosphere of trust. Employees know we’ve got their back – and we know they’ll be there for us. Benefits alone are not enough to build trust, however. We must demonstrate authentic care and compassion for the people who keep us in business. Empowering employees through technology and high-touch decision-support increases trust by meeting them in the moment and bringing value to their lives.

Stephan Scholl
Stephan Scholl
By Stephan Scholl

As CEO, Stephan Scholl is responsible for the strategy, growth and business performance of Alight, a leading provider of next-level human capital and business solutions. Over his more than 25-year career, Stephan has created a reputation as a transformational leader, passionate about customer success. He is focused on driving results, delivering value and improving business processes for global organizations by harnessing the full power of leading cloud-based solutions.

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