Executive Education

3 Tips for Rebuilding Employee Trust and Culture Post-PR Disaster

In the aftermath of a PR crisis, most companies focus their efforts on reputation management and customer relations – but what about the employees whose trust has also been shattered? This loss of conviction in one’s company can be devastating to overall performance. While taking steps to rebuild employee trust may seem like a task most suited for the HR department, C-suite executives must be highly involved in restoring culture and employee morale. In fact, it’s a priority of equal value: dedicated staff can come together to pull a company out of crisis whereas disengaged employees may use the crisis as an opportunity to head for the exit.

Creating a culture of protecting your own is a story for another time but in the midst of the emergency, it’s critical that the CEO and other senior leaders immediately gauge the severity of the situation and implement a plan for protecting and retaining their staff.

Whether it’s a product recall or data breach, these events can impact both profitability and productivity. In recent years, even trusted brands like Target and Sony have suffered from data breaches’ harmful impact on employee trust. Employees might feel blindsided, embarrassed or betrayed when news of the event surfaces, making a crisis management plan a vital resource. Top executives must act as their staff’s advocate by prioritizing transparent communication and providing ongoing support. Here are some strategies you can use to lessen the blow on culture in the midst of a PR nightmare.

Creative Office Space

  1. Practice strong internal communication. First and foremost, admit you have violated your employees’ trust. If you made any mistakes in the midst of the issue, apologize for those as well. Your staff deserves to know the facts – communicating the message in a transparent manner will prevent a complete loss of trust. Despite the negative reactions you might receive, it’s key to clearly explain what actions led to the crisis and how it will affect their jobs or personal lives. If your computers were hacked, employees will question whether or not they can trust the company with sensitive information moving forward. It’s important to have detailed answers (and ideally solutions) to these questions. You’ll also want to educate your staff on how and what to communicate externally if they are contacted by the media. Employees will find comfort in an in-depth explanation around how you plan to remedy the situation. Communication drives trust, and it’s where your road to recovery begins.
  1. Create a transparent work environment. Culture and space influence employee views of your company more than you might think. If your office space is dimly lit or closed off by cubicles, you may want to reconsider your design. Space helps liberate culture – and more often than not, a collaborative culture increases effectiveness. Open floor plans facilitate transparency and teamwork, which are qualities you want to embrace when reinforcing employee trust. Your culture will only plummet further if you don’t get serious about creating an approachable and vibrant office. Open office space not for you? Simple changes like keeping your door open or adding more functional furniture are great, cheap, immediate ways to increase employees’ confidence in your organization. These subtle yet pertinent adjustments can help the staff feel more at ease post-crisis.
  1. Implement solutions to prevent future issues. Show your commitment to avoiding future crises by teaming up with the HR department to develop a training program and security plan. Training programs are instrumental in preparing your staff on all fronts if another security breach or negative story about the company were to arise. Seeing senior leadership dedicated to preparing employees for worst case scenarios doesn’t just breed trust, it builds goodwill and happiness within the organization. Reevaluate your company’s values if needed and don’t just put them up on a wall – use them to make hiring and operational decisions. Hire dedicated employees who are committed to your brand and are more likely to stand shoulder to shoulder in times of crisis. Make sure the organization’s culture embodies your company values and ethics. If your management team shows ongoing determination to create an ethical and transparent work environment, employee confidence and trust will soar.

When a potentially damaging situation occurs, how quickly you address your employees’ concerns can impact productivity and consequently, revenue. Like all relationships, building employee/employer trust is based on honesty, confidence and the ongoing belief that promises will be kept. Crisis management truly is a balancing act between repairing your brand and employee relations, but if you’re proactive from the get-go, you might just find a silver lining in the crisis.

(Written by Max Chopovsky, Founder and CEO, Chicago Creative Space ; Editing by Maria kent, Laurie Rose, and Christopher Ward)

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Max Chopovsky
Max Chopovsky is the founder of Chicago Creative Space, a company providing a culture and workplace consultancy and media platform featuring videos of Chicago's most interesting workspaces. He has worked with companies of all sizes and stages to help them grasp the inherent connection between office space and culture.