A worker's opinion of the top executives in his company has a lot to do with the employee's productivity, job satisfaction, and safety on the job. This is the conclusion of Ronald Goodman and Dr. Richard S. Ruch after several years of research for such companies as the General Motors Corporation and the American Telephone & Telegraph Company, as well as a number of smaller companies.
After looking over internal communications of these companies, they recommend management do a similar stock-taking to learn how employees view them, and make corrections as needed.
The Ruch-Goodman team believes employees aren't especially interested in top management except to know that the people at the top care for them - are more interested in them than in profits and sales. The workers on the line may not even know ''the boss,'' but if his actions show he is interested in the employees, they are happy to work for him.
In 1975 Dr. Ruch, now dean of the School of Business at Rider College in Laurenceville, N.J., worked with researchers from the University of Michigan on a study of General Motors. They developed a questionnaire on job satisfaction which was given to 5,000 blue-collar employees in 10 plants.
Two thousand completed questionnaires were returned.
Some 25 of the questions related to the employees' perception of the management at supervisory levels and at senior management levels. The employees made a clear distinction between the two groups.
Opinions of a supervisor related to how he helped or hindered the employee in doing his job. But the perceptions about top management had a stronger direct influence on job satisfaction, according to Dr. Ruch.
Mr. Goodman believes the era of the MBA (master of business administration) manager has created problems in employee communications, because, he says, many MBAs tend to look at numbers rather than people.
''They have forgotten the human relationship, and the MBA tends not to build communications.''
He advises managers to show they care about what employees contribute to the organization, stress what is being done to improve working conditions; smooth supervisor-employee relationships; let employees in on changes well ahead of time; and keep them briefed on management's successes. He also thinks workers should know what's going on in their industry, so they can see their role in meeting competition.
''It is possible,'' Mr. Goodman said, ''to measure and apply cash values to savings from reduced accidents, absenteeism, and worker turnover which come from better communication.''