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Evaluating Your Return-to-Work Strategy: Three Steps for Ensuring Safety and Developing Trust

Updated: Sep 20, 2022

As quarantine restrictions begin loosening once again, organizations around the globe are busy strategizing to ensure the safety of employees returning to the workplace. Despite plans for social distancing and sanitation, the latest Workforce Pulse Survey by PwC confirms that safety remains a serious concern for many.

A recent article by Deloitte Insights reveals a much larger issue lurking behind these safety concerns. According to Deloitte, employees’ hesitation to return to work stems from lack of trust toward their organizations, managers and peers. As team leaders, coaches, managers — and professionals who support them — how can we develop trust and provide a return-to-work strategy that meets everyone’s needs, regardless of their threshold for personal safety?

Here are three ways to help build trust in organizations and lessen the burden faced by employees today.

Communicate regularly and with transparency.

The Five Behaviors® Model, based on best-selling author Patrick Lencioni’s book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, identifies Trust as the first step for developing cohesive teams. Within Lencioni’s model, transparency and honesty serve as key ingredients for creating safe, collaborative and vulnerable environments where individuals and teams can achieve positive results.

With this in mind, we as leaders, too, must look to communication as a strategy for rebuilding trust in complex and volatile situations. Inevitably, employees will struggle to adapt to the changes they encounter upon returning to what once was their everyday work environments. As their leader, it is imperative that you practice agility, provide each employee with clear, consistent and apparent expectations, and develop a climate of trust. Ultimately, it’s your responsibility to ensure that your people are part of crafting your organization’s vision and understand their role in realizing that vision.

“The best managers provide steady, realistic direction and lead with excellence, even when the strategy isn't clear.” — Lisa Lai, Managing When the Future is Unclear

In this case, over-communication is widely encouraged, even if forced to use the all powerful phrase, “I don’t know.”

Practice empathy. Another critical component to building trust lies in the ability to demonstrate that you have others’ best interests at heart. That’s where emotional intelligence (also known as EQ) comes in.

A study published last year by our associate partner, Wiley Publishing, found that 97 percent of workers believe, “Developing social and emotional skills is time well spent.” We agree. Practicing these EQ tactics can help to promote a culture of agility, and enable your team members to relax and trust the process you’ve helped put into place:

  • Incorporate into your return-to-work strategy the emotional and interpersonal aspects of the situation - Go beyond new regulations and guidelines outlining return-to-work safety plans. Demonstrate your understanding of the unique concerns and issues faced by each individual employee.

  • Navigate beyond your comfort zone - No one said it would be easy. Take a step back to assess the likely impact these new procedures and practices may have on the emotions and behaviors of each employee. Empathize with and understand the situation from their personal points of view.

  • Empower others to do the same - Promote social and emotional understanding among employees of different human mindsets organization-wide to create a culture of caring.

Provide professional development training.

For employees to feel truly safe, it is vital that they trust not only you as their leader, but also those around them. The struggle is real; 60 percent of Americans surveyed in a focus group by Deloitte indicated they do not trust their coworkers to social distance.

To overcome these obstacles, many of our clients are putting into place the professional development training and assessment tool The Five Behaviors: Personal Development™. Again based on Lencioni’s Five Behaviors® Model for developing high-performing teams, The Five Behaviors: Personal Development™ generates personalized reports with key insights to teach employees the critical behaviors and interpersonal skills needed to become effective team players and build trust among others — anytime and from anywhere.

Closing Thoughts

Whatever your plan for rebuilding trust among your employees, we urge you, your teams and your organization to consider and evaluate both the short- and long-term implications of your return-to-work strategy. Trust is needed not only to help employees feel safe again in the workplace. It is also a cornerstone of motivation and productivity.

We hope this blog has sparked some additional thoughts about incorporating solutions into your strategy that will help your organization rise together in the aftermath of these uncertain times. We would love to hear your thoughts about how to ensure the safety – including psychological safety – of employees as they return to the workplace.



Dr. Laura L. Hauser, MCC, MCEC

Founder, Leadership Strategies International

Dr. Laura Hauser, MCC, MCEC, works with organizational leaders and their teams (and the professionals who support them) to build healthy workplace cultures. She is an internationally-recognized thought leader and researcher in the highly specialized space of team coaching. Using art and science, she teaches, coaches, supervises and consults in a way that expands mindsets and capabilities needed to navigate through disruption. Laura has been honored for her contributions to the coaching profession. She is the developer of the Team Coaching Operating System®, an ACSTH coaching school accredited by the International Coach Federation. Contact Laura by email or on LinkedIn.

When referencing this material, please acknowledge the source: ©2020 Dr. Laura L. Hauser, MCC,

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