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Rebuilding trust in the workplace

When trust in a workplace remains broken, no one wins, and the process of rebuilding it can be hard. But by practicing these seven steps, you can mend broken trust and move forward with a more engaged and energized workforce.

The Great Recession -- the deepest economic downturn since the 1930s -- created chaos in workplaces everywhere. In the process, the very underpinnings of trust were upended.

Today, one-third of working Americans say they plan to look for a new job when the economy gets better, and of this group, 48 percent cite a loss of trust in their employer as the reason, according to the 2010 Ethics & Workplace Survey by consulting firm Deloitte LLP. Furthermore, the survey reveals that as many as 65 percent of Fortune 1000 executives believe that trust will be a factor in the potential increase in voluntary employee turnover in the coming months.

Also, for the first time in recent history, trust and transparency are more important to corporate reputation in the United States than the quality of products and services -- a key finding from the 2010 Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual survey on trust and credibility conducted by PR giant Edelman.

And while trust in business is up modestly in the United States -- after plunging 20 percent in 2009 -- the rise is tenuous, the Edelman survey reports. CEOs rank next to last on the list of trusted spokespersons, and nearly 70 percent of people worldwide say that companies will revert to "business as usual" after the economy recovers.

Broken trust at work -- major and not-so-minor betrayals

Major betrayals in the workplace -- from corporations grossly mismanaging worker layoffs to CEOs committing crimes and misdemeanors -- can, and these days do, make headlines. To be sure, these breaches of trust are significant and often newsworthy. They do not, however, stand alone.

Minor betrayals, such as gossiping, finger pointing, or taking credit for others' work, are more pervasive than major betrayals and erode trust over time. In most workplaces, the accumulation of these "little" betrayals becomes a big problem, negatively impacting people's confidence, commitment, and energy. What's more, according to our research, 90 percent of employees report that they feel the effects of eroded trust on a daily basis. Additionally, we know that betrayal is universal: everyone has been betrayed, and everyone has betrayed others.

The high price of not rebuilding trust

Trust or consequences.

When trust in a workplace remains broken, no one wins. Not individuals. Not teams. Not organizations.

The consequences also come with a high price. On the "hard" side are major hits to productivity, performance, and profits.

And on the soft side? In interviews, employees tell us, "My heart isn't in this place anymore" or "I just look out for myself." Team members confess, "We've stopped thinking big and taking risks." And leaders report "a real loss in energy, passion, and creativity." (Some even sheepishly utter the words, "I hope we make it.")

Broken trust won't magically disappear, however, and the process of rebuilding it can't be short-circuited.

A seven-step process for leaders

Trust is easy to break and hard to repair. Yet, as a leader, in the absence of trust, your vision and objectives are virtually irrelevant.

The good news is that there is a proven seven-step process, drawn from two decades of research, for taking concrete, constructive, and compassionate action.

By practicing these seven steps, you can muster courage, mend broken trust, and move forward with a more engaged and energized workforce.

1. Observe and acknowledge what happened. When trust is broken, most people experience the impact as a loss -- the loss of what was or what could have been. Tune in to how employees are responding to that loss. Acknowledge their experience, listen to what's important to them, and demonstrate that their views matter. Be sure to interact face-to-face, plus use tangible tools such as organizational surveys and special instruments that measure trust.

2. Allow feelings to surface. Provide people with nonthreatening environments to express their feelings and begin to work through them. Focus groups, team meetings, and one-on-one conversations can all be helpful in creating safe, ongoing forums and ensuring that employees' emotions don't go underground.

3. Get and give support. Help people recognize where they are stuck and how they can shift from blaming to problem solving. Also, make sure that no one is moving ahead blindly. Share key information and insights to help employees feel involved and "in the know." And seek support for yourself, too, perhaps through fellow leaders, a mentor, or an executive coach.

4. Reframe the experience. Put the experience into a larger context. Help people to see the bigger picture, such as the business reasons behind a set of decisions, and to consider the individual choices and opportunities now in front of them, including potential benefits.

5. Take responsibility. Own up to what is yours to own. Determine the lessons learned and the actions you can take to improve the current situation. Hold yourself accountable, plus help others take responsibility and hold themselves accountable, too.

6. Forgive yourself and others. Forgiving doesn't mean excusing; it means acknowledging the impact of broken trust and then agreeing not only to move through it but also to learn from it and do better going forward. Ask people, "What needs to happen for forgiveness to take place?" Additionally, ask yourself the same question if you need to forgive yourself.

7. Let go and move on. There is a difference between remembering and "hanging on." Employees may not forget what happened, but they can choose to look forward rather than stay stuck in the past. Help people in letting go and moving on with a sense of shared responsibility.

Dennis S. Reina, Ph.D., and Michelle L. Reina, Ph.D., are pioneering experts on workplace trust and coauthors of Rebuilding Trust in the Workplace (Berrett-Koehler) and Trust and Betrayal in the Workplace (Berrett-Koehler). They are cofounders of the Reina Trust Building Institute, a global enterprise specializing in measuring, developing, and restoring workplace trust. Contact them at reinatrustbuilding.com.

14 comments
mikifinaz1
mikifinaz1

The only thing you can trust about any company is that it will do what is in it's own best self-interest. I used to watch people with this "we are all family" frame of mind move into their offices stuffed animals and all; then get their "hearts" broken with a pink slip. IT is all about the bottom line and when you lose sight of that your just fooling yourself. Don't bring in pictures and all the junk. Keep a bag packed by the door with your stuff in it and if your office has a white board keep a count down list on it to remind yourself what position you are really in. That way all you have to do is wipe the board, pick up your bag, put on your coat and leave.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

In today's world, those reasons can probably be boiled down to making more money available for shareholder dividends & executive bonuses.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Every one of these points is dependant on being trusted. You want to be "trusted", next time you have the chance to further your own interests by acting against someone elses, don't take it IF you wish to maintain their trust. If a business feels it's in it's interest to act against mine, I don't feel betrayed that it does. If a manager does the same thing, I don't feel betrayed either. I can assure you I act in what I percieve to be mine, and I quite understand that it might not be yours or theirs. If that occurs we shake hands, part ways, end of story. These are not a breakdown of trust, there was none to break. Breakdown of trust is when you ask for it, get something from it and then do the fool who gave you it up the back. Which is what you are angling for here isn't it. Point 4 especially.... Stop talking complete drivel and start talking mutual self interest, that can be trusted always.

jkameleon
jkameleon

> Today, one-third of working Americans say they plan to look for a new job when the economy gets better, One-third of working Americans still trust the other employers? Well, that's not bad at all! Anyway, they are going to plan for a looong long time, because the economy isn't going to get any better soon. The coming depression is only at its opening stages. They will stay put- if they are lucky. This is what makes the following process feasible. It's far more simple than what you've proposed, and, above all, very cost effective, which is all that matters nowadays: 1. Hunt down and eliminate all mistrustful and/or disengaged employees. Employee satistfaction survey, which looks anonymous, but really isn't, is the most common method. 2. Check the employee wear indicators regularily, and replace as necessary. With the experience gained in step 1, selecting the fresh pieces from the vast pool of unemployed talent should be easy.

j-mart
j-mart

utter bolocks seems to be a large part of many TR blogs of late

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

Those kinds of hermetically sealed business sites are scary. Every page seems to contain a contact form, whereas no page provides tangible information. It may just be a question of style... but I don't like it.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Cynicism filter was off. Would 'possibly' have been better?

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

is tell your customers what they want to hear. Should have stuck to Gartner break out sessions, none of us would be there...

jkameleon
jkameleon

Had these trustbuilders discosed any tangible information about themselves, nobody would trust them. Most of these management fadders are descendants of the Scientology Church management programs, ESP/NXIVM, etc http://www.rickross.com/sg_commercial.html It's sick stuff, really crazy. According to things I've learned on this forum, it could be the major factor behind the IBM's fall from its "Big Blue" status in the previous century. IBM has been sending its executives to these executive trainings, and only those who endured to the end (and got brainwashed in the process), got the promotions.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

I wouldn't trust you with my livelihood. The nature of your role precludes being able to meet that trust and that's the implicit dishonesty in the article. To ask to be trusted with something you can't be trusted with, means you are untrustworthy. To not ask for a trust that you can't return, means you can be trusted to a point. This is basic inter-personal relationships, I means you pick this up when you share your sweets with Fred today, and tomorrow he turns up with suspiciously full cheeks saying he hasn't got none.... You can trust fat Fred up to the point a bag of jelly babies becomes available.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

A decision(1), as made by a human, weighed down by responsibilities and what-ifs - can hardly be compared to a decision(2) as made by a committee, made weightless by the tricks of responsibility-go-away consultants. Just like the meaning of "consultant" in the above is different from the "consultant" usually used around here. BTW; I don't think there should be a difference between decisions 1 and 2, I think it's a big problem that some management people try to shirk the responsibilities. They should carry them, it would stop a lot of crap happening.

santeewelding
santeewelding

"Conjecturally, on account of what I hear from the homeless on the street." I am CEO, owner, and have been for 35 years. Not a huge one; nevertheless, making business decisions everyday for those 35 years that have and directly do now impact livelihoods. I, and my ilk -- we are an exceedingly tiny minority in the hubbub of voices here, as well as in the world. I generally hold my tongue on this forum in these matters, suspecting that others of my kind here do, too, to avoid being battered and hung upside-down, naked from a public lamp post. Sometimes, though, I can't not speak.

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