How to Rebuild the Trust of a Disillusioned IT Workforce

Don Tennant

A lost trust can be a deal killer in many facets of life, and a lost trust in the workplace is one of them. As we begin to emerge from the recession, maybe a little bowed but hopefully not broken, we're seeing the ramifications of the ill-treatment of the IT workforce. It isn't pretty.


There's a lot of resentment not only among workers who were laid off, but among their colleagues who saw their salaries cut, workloads skyrocket and appreciation for their hard work seemingly disappear. So if you're an IT leader and you're wondering whether you forgot how crucial your people are as you struggled to cut costs to help your company survive the recession, you probably did. If you're not wondering that, chances are you were among the worst offenders.


So now what do you do to make things right so you stand a better chance of retaining your top IT workers who are beginning to see options and opportunities open up outside of your company? Dennis and Michelle Reina, authors of "Rebuilding Trust in the Workplace," might be able to help you out.


To provide insight into just how serious the workplace trust problem is, the Reinas point to some revealing studies. Deloitte's 2010 Ethics & Workplace Survey found that one-third of working Americans planned to change jobs when the economy improves, and nearly half of that group cited a loss of trust as the reason. The 2010 Edelman Trust Barometer, meanwhile, found that for the first time in recent history, trust and transparency trumped products and services as the most important factors in assessing corporate reputation in the United States.


The Reinas have come up with practical advice to help leaders, including IT managers, pick up a broken workplace trust and piece it back together. Here is their seven-step process, drawn from 20 years of research, to serve as the glue:


  • 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 into 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Jan 30, 2011 2:09 AM mataj mataj  says:

retaining your top IT workers

No problem. The coming economic depression is still in its opening stages. This "recovery" you're talking about is just a dead cat bounce similar to 1930. Salaried workers will be stuck wherever they are, and happy about it. If not, well since we have NOSOTEK ( )- who needs IT workers anyway. They are all too expensive.

Observe and acknowledge what happened.

When dealing with intelligent human beings, acknowledging the obvious is generally counterproductive. Everybody knows what's happening. IT employee goodwill and trust is being regularly thrown out of the window for short term profits. It's a good bargain, because the workplace trust problem is very easy to solve in the IT (see below).

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.

That's tried and proven method of identifying disillusioned and disengaged employees before eliminating them. Employees allow their feelings to surface at their own peril.

Take responsibility.

Awww, c'mon, don't be silly. With human relations in IT as FUBAR as they are, the only convincing way of taking responsibility is seppuku.

Forgive yourself and others . . .  Let go and move on.

This is pretty much the key of solving the IT Workforce trust problem. Well, not exactly forgiving. God forgives, people forget. Forgetting the violated trust takes about a generation. Luckily, the generations in IT change fast. Broken trust and disillusionment can therefore easily be rebuilt by the old, tried and proven tire management method: Check the employee wear indicators regularly, and change as necessary.

Feb 19, 2011 6:52 AM Flea treatmen Flea treatmen  says: in response to mataj

Good article Don!

Mar 2, 2011 2:44 AM Ned Ludd Ned Ludd  says:

Refuse to work with H1B's/ -THAT is the crux of the problem!

And don't forget! They'll do it again.

Mar 2, 2011 7:09 AM enlightenedOne enlightenedOne  says: in response to Ned Ludd

If not H1B's then the jobs will be outsourced so there is no escape, unfortunately. These corporates have MANY ways to hoodwink laws. they will cite whatever they like to outsource the jobs.

Mar 2, 2011 12:10 PM Kevin Kevin  says:

Nice article.

This at the very least needed to be said.

I can see a lot of Managers and other exec's who will deny this was or is a problem.  And I really think MORE needs to be said.

A lot more.

I like the "seppuku" thought.  But I doubt those who did this and are doing this think they did anything wrong.  When money and profit are involved, there is no feeling of remorse, morality, or responsibility for some.

But for those who still have those qualities it would be nice to blow on those embers of Humanity and hopefully turn the spark of thought into a blaze of opportunity.

(Yeah, idealist here... sorry...)

But I have seen a up tick in call backs for jobs and opportunities. 


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