Moving from Trauma to Trust at Work

Training leaders to create trust in a workforce in crisis.

As more employees are returning to work, there is growing anxiety about the pandemic’s impact on workers’ well-being. Coming out of the pandemic will require a sensitivity by leaders and managers not taught in business school. With proper training and new skills, leaders can create an environment where traumatized workers will feel welcome, safe, and trusted.

A recent survey by the Conference Board reported that U.S. workers rank mental and psychological well-being as one of their biggest wellness concerns. Nearly 60 percent of workers reported concerns about stress and burnout. “Understanding your teams’ struggles will build trust and help you actively support their well-being, engagement, and productivity,” said Amy Lui Abel, Ph.D., vice president of Human Capital at The Conference Board.

Forbes reported that in a recent study of 12,000 employees, 78 percent said the pandemic had increased their stress, loneliness, and burnout, and hurt their work-life balance. Pandemic fatigue is real and must be addressed. Keeping employees healthy, involved, and motivated will be critical. (

There is a strong correlation between trauma and a lack of trust. The unprecedented collective exposure to severe or perceived danger to one’s health brought on by the pandemic and the televising of the murder of George Floyd and others has traumatized many returning workers. This continued onslaught of fear and concern is causing people to experience great difficulty with trust. Returning workers may feel vulnerable and confused about what is safe, and, therefore, it may be difficult to trust others, even those they trusted in the past. This directly influences interactions with one’s coworkers.

The skills practices are used to demonstrate personal trust challenges in order to build trust. Getting peer feedback is helpful. Each program includes the practice of “Trust Builders” such as:

  • Active listening (especially for emotion)
  • Responding effectively to emotions
  • Expressing empathy
  • Sharing vulnerabilities
  • Sharing mistakes and weaknesses
  • Being seen as consistent, reliable, and trustworthy
  • Expressing confidence and support for others

There are small group discussions and exercises on “Trust Breakers” and the 4 Pillars of Trust: sharing mistakes, vulnerabilities, emotions/triggers, and strengths/weaknesses. Participants are guided to develop strategies for dealing with empathy and sharing, pitfalls to avoid, and practicing trust conversations.

The program concludes with reflections, action planning, and takeaway guides to build and sustain trust. Leaders who have taken the workshop report they feel more confident about engaging their employees in conversations regarding their feelings about work, life, and the pandemic.

When trust is valued as a core principle in the workplace, employees demonstrate increased commitment and dedication toward their work and the organization’s goals.

Please send any questions for Dr. Brescher, or examples of applications of post-pandemic trust- building programs in business, any case studies, best practices, or related issues to me at:

Neal Goodman, Ph.D., is president of Global Dynamics, Inc., a training and development firm specializing in globalization, cultural intelligence, effective virtual workplaces, and diversity and inclusion. He can be reached at 305.682.7883 and at For more information, visit: