Employee trust is a precious commodity in financial crisis

Throughout the past year, the communications industry looked to crisis and reputation experts to help their companies and clients navigate the global financial crisis.

Throughout the past year, the communications industry looked to crisis and reputation experts to help their companies and clients navigate the global financial crisis. And when rounds of massive corporate layoffs followed, the industry trumpeted the need for solid internal communications. While the work to rebuild tarnished brands will take time, the effort to restore your staff's shaken trust must start now.

US unemployment has finally hit the 10% mark. The job market is expected to lag behind economic recovery for some years. While investors might be happy that companies are returning to profitability by controlling costs (read: layoffs and salary freezes), employees will be less sympathetic to this position if it's not properly communicated. This is where internal communications can save or fail you.

At a recent Council of PR Firms event, Susie Gharib, anchor of PBS' Nightly Business Report, noted that Americans' general feeling right now is, "I don't want to work for a company I don't trust."

If layoffs are over at your company, let people know. If you're not sure, let them know what concerns remain and when the next benchmark will be. Do so in small groups with direct supervisors leading conversations, ostensibly someone the employees trust.

A crisis can be a time when employees pull together - or fall apart. Listening to communications pros on this topic over the past few months, a few comments have stood out to me:

  • General Motors' recently retired VP of global communications Steve Harris noted, "People are looking for leadership."
  • GE's SVP/CMO Beth Comstock: "Words must match the deeds."
  • Susan Gordon, American Airlines' MD of corporate communications, suggested regular recognition and fostering common causes.

Beyond energizing your employee base, building trust with staff now will ensure that your company doesn't lose out in the coming months as the talent wars really take off. Agencies, at least, are already noticing movement. There are some that will always jump to the highest bidder, but there are others who will value the goodwill you've built with them. Smart communicators know that clear, frequent internal communications is everything in a tense business climate where everyone knows someone who has lost a job.

Rose Gordon is the news editor of PRWeek. She can be contacted at rose.gordon@prweek.com.

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