Rebuilding trust

Trust is formed slowly, over many small interactions, but it can be lost quickly. Often trust is lost after a change is announced which people feel is sudden, unexpected, and that they have no control over – such as a restructure or announcement of redundancies.

The best way to maintain trust within an organization is to be clear and open with everyone when coming to decisions and making changes. However, this isn’t always possible in our VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) world, and sometimes a change effects trust within organizations in unforeseen ways.


In her research, our Director and Designer of Happiness, Dr Jody Aked found that trust was described as an “automatic feeling ... maybe because we have the same mission and vision”. She found that individuals self-organize around the essence of a collective effort, relating their own interests and passions to the bigger picture. The coherent narrative we build about what we are doing, with whom and why can be threatened or broken when things about the collective effort are changing. To retain trust, it’s important, then, to talk to people about how a change fits within the collective mission and vision.

While re-building trust takes consistent effort, the use of informal social spaces quickens the process. Therefore, make good use of and/or create informal social opportunities. As leaders, connect one-to-one with as many employees as you can and encourage others to do so too. This helps you to be viewed not as group of senior leaders addressing a group of employees, but instead one human being connecting with another human being. Use one-to-one interactions to genuinely learn new things about the people you work with.

Jody also found that catalyzing a sense of pride at the beginning of a meeting can kick start a sequence of psychological experiences which changes for the better how people relate to the collective effort. To put this into practice, try starting meetings with things you can all be proud about, to gently reinforce how everyone’s efforts at work align to a common mission and vision.

If trust is lost, it’s important to remind ourselves that people are seeking to feel they can trust themselves with one another again. When interacting, we are considering if we feel the other person is:

  • Authentic (Am I connecting with the real them?)
  • Empathetic (Do I feel confident they know and are thinking about my concerns?)
  • Competent (Do I trust in them to deliver what they are accountable for? Can I rely on their good judgement and expertise?)

Each interaction is an opportunity to remind employees and colleagues of your trust-worthiness – your honesty, reliability and competency.

It is slower to build trust than it is to lose it. But it is an essential ingredient of happiness and success at work, which can be revived one interaction at a time.