American workers are increasingly cynical and suspicious of information they receive from their own organizations, according to a new study by Towers Perrin.

Of the 1,000 U.S. workers polled for the survey, just over half (51 percent) believe their company generally tells employees the truth, while almost a fifth (19 percent) disagree. At the same time, 51 percent believe their companies try too hard to “spin” the truth. The survey also shows that employees believe their companies communicate more honestly with shareholders (60 percent) and customers (58 percent) than with workers.

The survey, “Enhancing Corporate Credibility: Is It Time to Take the Spin Out of Employee Communication?” further reveals that employees view the information emanating from senior leadership as the least reliable, with almost half (48 percent) agreeing that they receive more credible information from their direct supervisor than from their company’s CEO.

In addition, survey results show that employees are more likely to believe information about their pay (64 percent) and benefits (59 percent) than they are to believe information about company direction and business strategies: information most often communicated from the C-suite.

“These results reveal a worrisome employer-employee dynamic that should be a wake-up call to any senior executive or leader who will need to communicate with employees in 2004,” says Mark Schumann, Towers Perrin principal and leader of the firm’s HR Services business communication consulting practice. “Regardless of the topic, an organization will find it difficult to motivate, engage and retain their most talented employees if their messages are not believed.”

The poll also found significant differences in employee perceptions of corporate credibility on different subjects. Survey respondents believe their employer is least open when communicating the fundamental “deal” between the company and employees, specifically what the company needs from employees and what employees can expect to receive in return. Only half believe employers are forthright about what the organization needs from employees and well under half (39 percent) believe the company is completely open and honest in communicating what the organization offers.

More than 90 percent of employees, however, claim they are ready to hear the truth about their companies and their jobs.

The degree to which employees believe corporate communications varies by age, length of tenure with the organization and pay level. Two-thirds of workers under 35 believe their companies are forthright in their communications, while only 44 percent of those 50 or older agree with this statement. Tenure also affects the degree to which employees believe corporate communications. Fifty-nine percent of employees with less than five years of service with their companies believe their organizations are entirely open and honest in employee communications, while less than half (48 percent) of those with more than five years of service believe the validity of corporate communications to employees.

Finally, income plays a role as well. Fifty-seven percent of workers making more than $100,000 annually believe their organization’s employee communications, while only 44 percent of those making less than $50,000 per year share that view.

“The survey results point to a need for greater openness and candor in organizational communications,” added Schumann. “Employees, like shareholders, lenders and potential investors, expect more transparency today from organizations in which they invest their time and talents. Employers that understand this critical need and communicate clearly and candidly will not only boost the credibility of their leaders and managers but will become stronger organizations. Any organization planning to communicate with employees in 2004 should take a serious look at their own internal credibility.”