How to Rebuild Employee Trust During Hardship



In a recent post, Shawn Murphy outlined the role of trust in keeping people from leaving an organization.

I wholeheartedly agree with Shawn’s thoughts identifying important causes of bleeding talent particularly after an organizational workforce reduction (RIF). Remaining employees feel burdened by the increased workloads that they are now carrying. They feel resentful of the inequities in bonuses awarded to underperforming executives, and discouraged by the endless stream of upper management scandals.

Yet, another major cause of employees leaving that is often overlooked (and not addressed) is the feeling of loss that remaining employees experience. The loss of relationships with the co-workers who were laid off that is not acknowledged, yet deeply felt by those staying.

From our 23+ years of experience and practice in supporting employees and leaders to rebuild trust within organizations at Reina, a Trust Building Consultancy, we have found that there are definitive steps leaders can take to rebuild trust and retain their surviving employees.

Acknowledge the changes that have happened and the impact of those changes with the remaining employees.

The first step is to acknowledge the changes that have happened and the impact of those changes with the remaining employees. When there are major organizational changes, the change is either perceived as an opportunity (by those benefiting from the changes), or a loss (by those burdened by the changes).

The second step is for leaders to address the impact and the loss that people feel and provide safe, constructive forums for employees to express their concerns, fear and anxiety (what keeps them up at night) regarding those changes.

When key business decisions are made (particularly those that affect employees’ jobs (and lives), people have a need to talk. Unless leaders provide constructive venues for employees to dialogue with them about the changes and their impact, employees will talk anyway, usually via the grapevine and the rumor mill. And, when they do not have full information about the changes, people will make it up- and it is rarely accurate or positive!

When leaders provide the support their people needs (step 3), they are helping employees to release the negativity and hurt they are feeling, shift their energy and helping them to reframe the experience.

Shift their energy and helping them to reframe the experience.

In reframing (step 4), people are then able to move from blaming management to looking at the options they now have and willing to explore opportunities of what is possible for them regarding the organizational changes.

Leaders must take responsibility for their role in the changes in supporting employees and the organization in moving forward. (step 5) Then, and only then, can leaders call on employees to take responsibility for their actions within their own areas of influence to help the employees thrive (versus just survive) and the organization move upward and onward.

Did you like today’s post? If so you’ll love our frequent newsletter! Sign up HERE and receive The Switch and Shift Change Playbook, by Shawn Murphy, as our thanks to you!

Image credit- bplanet / 123RF Stock Photo

Dennis Reina, Ph.D., along with his partner, Michelle Reina, Ph.D. are pioneering experts on workplace trust and co-authors of the award winning, business bestselling books, Rebuilding Trust in the Workplace and Trust and Betrayal in the Workplace (Berrett-Koehler). They are co-founders of the Reina, a Trust Building Consultancy, a global enterprise specializing in measuring, developing, and restoring workplace trust. Contact them at

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