Despite one of the worst economic environments in American history, U.S. employees report surprisingly high levels of confidence in the overall direction of their companies and their management, according to a new employee confidence survey conducted by public affairs firm APCO Worldwide in partnership with employee and organizational communications specialist Gagen MacDonald.


The survey also uncovered unexpectedly high degrees of company loyalty despite uncertainty about how loyal their companies are to them.


“While employee confidence and loyalty may to a large degree be an expression of wishful thinking during these tough times, it nonetheless indicates a sentiment that can and should be leveraged to a company’s advantage,” says Kirk Stewart, an executive vice president at APCO Worldwide. “The results clearly point to the increased importance and responsibilities leaders have in more effectively engaging, inspiring and leading their organizations, particularly in this uncertain economic environment.”


But Maril MacDonald, CEO of Gagen MacDonald, cautions: “Though the survey found surprisingly high levels of employee loyalty and trust, there is clearly less certainty of the company’s reciprocal allegiance. By employing more strategic communication, we believe companies can demonstrate their loyalty to employees and make significant headway in building the high-performing cultures needed to weather the remainder of this downturn and grow during the eventual economic recovery


“As the survey reinforces, this begins with leadership’s ability to articulate a vision for the company, build meaningful relationships and be transparent about decisions and their implications, from the C-Suite to the frontline.”


Overall, employees are very confident about the current and future direction of their companies, the survey showed. More than 80 percent of the respondents say their companies are headed in the right direction; only 15 percent think things are headed in the wrong direction. Nearly nine in 10 employees believe conditions will be better or the same a year from now; only 12 percent say they will be worse.

Nearly three-fourths of the respondents are also highly confident in their chief executive officer’s and immediate supervisor’s abilities to effectively lead their organizations. Those who believe their companies are headed in the wrong direction rate the performance of their CEOs significantly lower.


Despite the current controversy surrounding CEO compensation, only 32 percent believe their CEOs are compensated too highly. Just 11 percent think their immediate supervisors are compensated too highly. These results vary significantly depending on the respondent’s salary level. Employees are somewhat less positive about their own compensation; four in 10 respondents do not believe they are compensated sufficiently.


The survey indicated mixed sentiments regarding employee morale. Only 27 percent of respondents believe morale in their organizations is extremely positive, while 20 percent think it is extremely or somewhat negative. Only two in 10 employees believe morale is better compared to a year ago, while nearly one-third say it is worse. Morale declined with tenure and was lower among union employees.


Respondents, however, report very high levels of job satisfaction. Nearly 80 percent say they are extremely or somewhat satisfied with their current jobs, while only 9 percent are extremely or somewhat unsatisfied. Given the choice, nearly 90 percent of the employees say they will be at the same job six months from now. The employees cite job security, stability, pay and benefits as the primary reasons for their satisfaction.


More than 80 percent of the respondents say they are extremely loyal to their company and personally motivated to do all they can to help their companies succeed. Fewer than half, however, say they completely agree with the statements “My company is loyal to me” and “My company values its employees.” There is significantly higher agreement on company reciprocity among younger, more highly compensated, non-union and less-tenured employees.


The survey reaffirmed the important role effective communication plays in improving mutual loyalty and trust. Employees say they prefer to receive information about their company via e-mail or face-to-face from management. Nearly eight in 10 of the respondents believe it is extremely important to receive communication directly from their CEO, yet less than half consider the quality and frequency of that communication as excellent. Employees rate the communication they receive from their immediate supervisors much more positively.


Employees generally agree their companies successfully communicate the information necessary for them to do their jobs and their supervisors provide clear directions and priorities for their teams. Employees, however, see their company executives falling short on clearly explaining the future direction of the company.