A co-worker breaks a confidence. A teammate takes credit for your work. Your boss is chronically late. Another reorganization – and another round of layoffs – is impending.

It’s easy to see how business as usual can feel like betrayal as usual.

About 85% of workplace betrayal – a breach of trust or the perception of that breach – is unintended, however, says Dr. Dennis Reina, founder of The Reina Trust Building Institute. “These minor betrayals eat away at us, until one day we either mentally check out or physically walk out.”

While you can’t prevent betrayal among co-workers and colleagues, you do have a choice about how to respond and what to do when it happens.

Try the Institute’s 7-step process for working through betrayal.

Step 1: Observe and acknowledge what has happened. Healing starts with awareness. Pay attention. Listen and learn what happened before and what’s going on now. It is important to acknowledge not only what caused the broken trust, but the impact on those affected. As a leader, the fact that you’ve come to terms with a problem doesn’t mean that others have.

Step 2: Allow feelings to surface. People have feelings around business decisions. When people are in pain (which betrayal can cause), they need to be heard. If you don’t allow people to express their emotions, those feelings won’t go away – they will go underground. When it comes to feelings, most leaders say they don’t want to go there. But ignoring emotion won’t make it go away.

Step 3: Give employees support. When the betrayed feel vulnerable, helpless or victimized, support – in the form of information, relationships, new perspectives, coaching and encouragement – is important for leaders and co-workers to give. Sometimes, just talking with a trusted colleague or co-worker is good therapy; other times it helps to seek counseling or other outside resources.

Step 4: Reframe the experience. After a betrayal, people feel vulnerable and contract their focus. They have a hard time seeing a bigger picture. Ask questions that open up new ways to think about the situation: What role did I play? How can I change my response? What choices or options do I have now?

Step 5: Take responsibility. Yes, betrayal happened and trust was broken. Now what? Start to take responsibility and ask: What can I do to make a difference?

Step 6:  Forgive. Forgiveness isn’t about letting others off the hook; it’s about freeing yourself of anger, bitterness and resentment. Forgiveness is about shifting from blame to problem solving.

Step 7: Let go and move on. Accept what is. Acceptance is not about condoning what happened, but accepting it without blame. It takes work, time and commitment – the bigger the betrayal, the bigger the impact and the greater the challenge.

Have you ever been betrayed in your workplace?  If so, how did you cope? 

31 thoughts on “Betrayed in the Workplace? 7 Steps for Healing

  1. Paula says:

    One of the worse forms of betrayal at work is the one coming from your bosses. The psichological contract is completely broken for ever.

    1. Paula says:

      What I find unacceptable is when the phrase, “This business” is used as an excuse for letting you go without your knowledge. Really? It’s not Business when you have made a decision to let someone go all because you have a grudge against the employee or you are jealous of the employee.
      That’s absolutely Personal. Stop hiding behind the phones facade and just be truthful. It’s not cool to toy with a person’s livelihood.

  2. Paula says:

    One of the worse forms of betrayal at work is the one coming from your bosses. The psichological contract is completely broken for ever.

  3. busymam says:

    I have been a good boss to a young girl in my team, I treated her with kindness and as a mentor, she betrayed me and stabbed me in my back. I feel so annoyed with myself. She is no long my staff now, her behaviours and attitude towards me make me feel like smacking her face.

    1. Christy Brown says:

      I can understand how frustrating that can be when you put effort into helping someone, and it comes back to bite you later. Do you think the advice in this blog is applicable in your situation?

  4. busymam says:

    I have been a good boss to a young girl in my team, I treated her with kindness and as a mentor, she betrayed me and stabbed me in my back. I feel so annoyed with myself. She is no long my staff now, her behaviours and attitude towards me make me feel like smacking her face.

    1. Christy Brown says:

      I can understand how frustrating that can be when you put effort into helping someone, and it comes back to bite you later. Do you think the advice in this blog is applicable in your situation?

  5. Betrayed Employee says:

    I’ve waited 6 years for a possition to open and I’ve also done the work on and off when that person is off sick for long periods at a time (4-5months). I have also created worksheets for that position so that workflow would be more economical and faster. But at the end of the day, they gave it to a collegue that doesn’t even have exprience in that area. All those years wasted…

    1. Lisa says:

      I know exactly how you feel. I waited for seven years and when the position was offered to me by a supervisor. Then, later when I applied two colleagues went to my new supervisor and badmouthed me, the position was given to a less experienced but good-natured colleague (who didn’t even want the position).

  6. Betrayed Employee says:

    I’ve waited 6 years for a possition to open and I’ve also done the work on and off when that person is off sick for long periods at a time (4-5months). I have also created worksheets for that position so that workflow would be more economical and faster. But at the end of the day, they gave it to a collegue that doesn’t even have exprience in that area. All those years wasted…

    1. Lisa says:

      I know exactly how you feel. I waited for seven years and when the position was offered to me by a supervisor. Then, later when I applied two colleagues went to my new supervisor and badmouthed me, the position was given to a less experienced but good-natured colleague (who didn’t even want the position).

  7. joyful says:

    Wow, am still trying to come to terms with an experience of outright betrayal. I have taken time to listen to everyone involved, am trying hard to control my emotions. I don’t know even what to say in prayer. This morning I just said, Lord help me come out with a pure heart. I don’t desire to let Satan build a nest in my heart because of this. God help me.

    1. Anonymous says:

      Your post is helpful to me. I am reeling in the aftermath of a betrayal by a former employee and long-time friend (I believed). I am sitting here feeling overwhelmed by sadnesss and anger that someone I trusted and supported actually took that trust and support and used it to hurt others in my name. I am trying to turn it over to God but the hurt is unbelievable. I don’t know how to recover. I have lost long time professional and friend relationships with three people I formerly managed for 14 years due to this woman’s actions. She still works within the group; I moved away. The worst part is I don’t even know what has been said about me; but evidently it was bad enough that these people won’t engage with me now. There was no discussion. I fear my legacy at this company has been damaged because of her actions.

  8. joyful says:

    Wow, am still trying to come to terms with an experience of outright betrayal. I have taken time to listen to everyone involved, am trying hard to control my emotions. I don’t know even what to say in prayer. This morning I just said, Lord help me come out with a pure heart. I don’t desire to let Satan build a nest in my heart because of this. God help me.

    1. Anonymous says:

      Your post is helpful to me. I am reeling in the aftermath of a betrayal by a former employee and long-time friend (I believed). I am sitting here feeling overwhelmed by sadnesss and anger that someone I trusted and supported actually took that trust and support and used it to hurt others in my name. I am trying to turn it over to God but the hurt is unbelievable. I don’t know how to recover. I have lost long time professional and friend relationships with three people I formerly managed for 14 years due to this woman’s actions. She still works within the group; I moved away. The worst part is I don’t even know what has been said about me; but evidently it was bad enough that these people won’t engage with me now. There was no discussion. I fear my legacy at this company has been damaged because of her actions.

  9. New Perspective on Workplace Loyalty says:

    I was forced by my boss to resign (or be fired) due to allegations of “performance issues”. She discriminated against me based on my disability and retaliated against me for recommending policy changes to curtail conflict of interest and other unethical practices which could jeopardize our reputation in the community. She defamed and alienated me from management, coworkers, and board members by not allowing me the courtesy of a normal two weeks for transition. All communications with coworkers were broken off because they feared retaliation and job loss too. But there is hope, not through winning unemployment appeals or lawsuits. It is in knowing that you can rise above the emotional distress, and overcome it in time through the supportive healing of those who genuinely care about you.

  10. New Perspective on Workplace Loyalty says:

    I was forced by my boss to resign (or be fired) due to allegations of “performance issues”. She discriminated against me based on my disability and retaliated against me for recommending policy changes to curtail conflict of interest and other unethical practices which could jeopardize our reputation in the community. She defamed and alienated me from management, coworkers, and board members by not allowing me the courtesy of a normal two weeks for transition. All communications with coworkers were broken off because they feared retaliation and job loss too. But there is hope, not through winning unemployment appeals or lawsuits. It is in knowing that you can rise above the emotional distress, and overcome it in time through the supportive healing of those who genuinely care about you.

  11. www says:

    I was always loyal to the company. Some strong business decisions which I needed to present to my client led to bad relationships between me and them. I was suffering being in this situation but I was told that this is the right way to handle it and it is not my fault if client takes business decisions personal. And then I found out they have replaced me without letting me know and somebody new is doing my job while I am on annual leave as ‘ they could not continue this way’!

  12. www says:

    I was always loyal to the company. Some strong business decisions which I needed to present to my client led to bad relationships between me and them. I was suffering being in this situation but I was told that this is the right way to handle it and it is not my fault if client takes business decisions personal. And then I found out they have replaced me without letting me know and somebody new is doing my job while I am on annual leave as ‘ they could not continue this way’!

  13. Mahjabeen Malik says:

    Breach of trust :I am a preschool teacher I work very hard for the meager pay that I makebut they offer very good medical. I talked to my boss that in July 2014 that i will take Early childhood course 90 which is a field work course i will need a mentor and i will be stepping out of school for three hours twice a week ,this course is the second last one to attain mY AA in EARLY CHILDHOOD IN SPRING 2015. I need to talk to the HR.

    She was excited and told me not to worry.In the first week of August before going for my vacation I asked her , she said she has a mentor for me her name is Vicky and my boss will change my work timings from 7 to 4 and i will be able to do my field work from the first of September .

    On august 22nd a child fell on me i got hematoma and contusion and had to be out for medical leave .I joined on the 2nd of september and inquired about my mentor and starting date .she said she does not have any mentor for me .Vicky is the mentor for directors.She gave me vicky’s number and said she might refer me.Now my class had already started and I was 6 hours behind everybody. I went to the college ,teachers at Las Positas helped me found me a mentor.I went to my director and reported about the lab hours that would be in a lab in the school sharing our parking lot .

    She brought me to the office and said that HR has decided to give you a choice either you postpone the class for next year or quit I said what will be diffrent next year ? at this point we have 24 kids for 5 staff members you can very easily cover me she said Iam sorry we cannot accomodate your your personal needs. I am sure this was a professional need .

    Well she said she cannot promise any thing for the next year if I need a job then I must resign from a permanent position and become on call. This is her only solution for me.

    She also said that the hours are not guaranteed .I have to earn these hours.

    I had no choice but to resign . I have no money no medical and feel i have been fooled by her

    I feel betrayed because she did not let me talk to the HR my self ,kept me in dark a

    now left me hanging in the air.

  14. Mahjabeen Malik says:

    Breach of trust :I am a preschool teacher I work very hard for the meager pay that I makebut they offer very good medical. I talked to my boss that in July 2014 that i will take Early childhood course 90 which is a field work course i will need a mentor and i will be stepping out of school for three hours twice a week ,this course is the second last one to attain mY AA in EARLY CHILDHOOD IN SPRING 2015. I need to talk to the HR.

    She was excited and told me not to worry.In the first week of August before going for my vacation I asked her , she said she has a mentor for me her name is Vicky and my boss will change my work timings from 7 to 4 and i will be able to do my field work from the first of September .

    On august 22nd a child fell on me i got hematoma and contusion and had to be out for medical leave .I joined on the 2nd of september and inquired about my mentor and starting date .she said she does not have any mentor for me .Vicky is the mentor for directors.She gave me vicky’s number and said she might refer me.Now my class had already started and I was 6 hours behind everybody. I went to the college ,teachers at Las Positas helped me found me a mentor.I went to my director and reported about the lab hours that would be in a lab in the school sharing our parking lot .

    She brought me to the office and said that HR has decided to give you a choice either you postpone the class for next year or quit I said what will be diffrent next year ? at this point we have 24 kids for 5 staff members you can very easily cover me she said Iam sorry we cannot accomodate your your personal needs. I am sure this was a professional need .

    Well she said she cannot promise any thing for the next year if I need a job then I must resign from a permanent position and become on call. This is her only solution for me.

    She also said that the hours are not guaranteed .I have to earn these hours.

    I had no choice but to resign . I have no money no medical and feel i have been fooled by her

    I feel betrayed because she did not let me talk to the HR my self ,kept me in dark a

    now left me hanging in the air.

  15. Lynn says:

    Luckily, I am now retired but a coworker turned on me. This coworker used to be a friend. She wanted a job she did not qualify for , she wanted the job tailored to her needs/interests and tried to get the boss fired and get in through the back door . She got angry at me because putting her in the job would have meant a big financial loss to our business, as we would have lost financial support from the state if the job title changed. The boss offered to consider her for the position if she considered paid further education. She refused. She made my life and his hell until both of us retired, talk about a person who wants things easy. Sometimes I still wonder how she could have acted that way?

  16. Lynn says:

    Luckily, I am now retired but a coworker turned on me. This coworker used to be a friend. She wanted a job she did not qualify for , she wanted the job tailored to her needs/interests and tried to get the boss fired and get in through the back door . She got angry at me because putting her in the job would have meant a big financial loss to our business, as we would have lost financial support from the state if the job title changed. The boss offered to consider her for the position if she considered paid further education. She refused. She made my life and his hell until both of us retired, talk about a person who wants things easy. Sometimes I still wonder how she could have acted that way?

  17. Kate says:

    I confided in someone I thought was my right hand person, I had no reason not to trust them. Until I found out that they had told people at work about my miscarriage and then told them that I was pregnant before I had the chance to tell them myself. Because of this my husband and I had to tell our family that we were expecting despite only being 10 weeks pregnant. HR advised me to write her a letter as I didnt feel Id be able to control my emotions in a meeting with her. I bitterly regret this and wish Id followed my instincts to have it out with her butat the time I didnt want to cause a bigger mess by having tension in the team. Ive had to manage her until recently but now I feel that she has got away with it and she no longer has to feel awkward coming to work because Im not there. I absolutely cannot stand the sight of her.

  18. Kate says:

    I confided in someone I thought was my right hand person, I had no reason not to trust them. Until I found out that they had told people at work about my miscarriage and then told them that I was pregnant before I had the chance to tell them myself. Because of this my husband and I had to tell our family that we were expecting despite only being 10 weeks pregnant. HR advised me to write her a letter as I didnt feel Id be able to control my emotions in a meeting with her. I bitterly regret this and wish Id followed my instincts to have it out with her butat the time I didnt want to cause a bigger mess by having tension in the team. Ive had to manage her until recently but now I feel that she has got away with it and she no longer has to feel awkward coming to work because Im not there. I absolutely cannot stand the sight of her.

  19. stabbed in the back but survived says:

    i put up with a terrible co-worker who was irresponsible, selfish and a pathological liar for 3 years. she got away with a ton of crap by flirting with the senior level male employees. just a couple examples – the 2nd or 3rd week she started working with me, she left the office for an average 4 hrs/day to go shopping 2 days straight to find the perfect party dress. also when she had dinner plans, she’d leave the office after lunch at about 2~3pm to get her hair and makeup done, then come back to the office around 5pm to write a couple e-mails and pick up her stuff and leave for her “BIG DATE”. about a year ago she started her own side business and spent most of the office hours holed up in an empty meeting room leaving me with most of the workload, so i went online and gathered proof of her unethical behavior and a very detailed work timesheet (hers and mine) and went to HR with some serious complaints. HR acted like they were going to let her go then I found out they were giving me the go-around, so i immediately went to the internal audit team and reported her and HR – with all the proof. she’s finally gone and i have a new co-worker who is great.

    I still feel betrayed by HR. I do not trust them or anything they say now. I don’t think I ever will.

  20. stabbed in the back but survived says:

    i put up with a terrible co-worker who was irresponsible, selfish and a pathological liar for 3 years. she got away with a ton of crap by flirting with the senior level male employees. just a couple examples – the 2nd or 3rd week she started working with me, she left the office for an average 4 hrs/day to go shopping 2 days straight to find the perfect party dress. also when she had dinner plans, she’d leave the office after lunch at about 2~3pm to get her hair and makeup done, then come back to the office around 5pm to write a couple e-mails and pick up her stuff and leave for her “BIG DATE”. about a year ago she started her own side business and spent most of the office hours holed up in an empty meeting room leaving me with most of the workload, so i went online and gathered proof of her unethical behavior and a very detailed work timesheet (hers and mine) and went to HR with some serious complaints. HR acted like they were going to let her go then I found out they were giving me the go-around, so i immediately went to the internal audit team and reported her and HR – with all the proof. she’s finally gone and i have a new co-worker who is great.

    I still feel betrayed by HR. I do not trust them or anything they say now. I don’t think I ever will.

  21. Als says:

    I reported a manipulator to my boss eho was trying to manipulate the boss that i was trying to take her job. To my utmost surprise, my boss that i’ve been hundred percent loyal to betrayed my trust by informing the manipulator. The manipulator striked back by making my life a living hell at work. What a life!

  22. Als says:

    I reported a manipulator to my boss eho was trying to manipulate the boss that i was trying to take her job. To my utmost surprise, my boss that i’ve been hundred percent loyal to betrayed my trust by informing the manipulator. The manipulator striked back by making my life a living hell at work. What a life!

  23. Gypsy says:

    At the age of 34 I was betrayed by a boss that promised me a promotion if I did my work, no trouble, went above and beyond and ignored any politics in the office. I did all this and it was challenging in the environment in which I found myself. One day my boss tells me that she doesn’t need someone of my level so no need for me and then turns around and hires someone at two level higher and $10K more (friend of a friend) and this is all in corporate america. I was emotional, distraught and had to leave. It took almost a year, but I pulled myself together and it took years of growth and maturity to get back to where I am at. Same exact thing (or very similar) just happened in a new organization and the same tactics, and I realize it is political and a form of keeping your enemies closer and this time I held back and waited and approached my manager and was very clear (it is now 16 years later) about the mixed messages, the betrayal, the concern and also the fact that integrity and greater good of an organization has to come first. After hour drinks and socializing should not play into career moves (I know I am being naive) but when it affects those that do not participate, it hurts and can be damaging and for my own sanity I need to clear it up and also to role model. Having said this and bored everyone, I am giving ultimatums about tone and unethical behavior. It’s tough, it’s draining and it’s difficult but for my sanity it has to be completed. I will update at a later date if anyone is interested because I am starting the processes. And, the first round prepped me for this. Thank you.

  24. Gypsy says:

    At the age of 34 I was betrayed by a boss that promised me a promotion if I did my work, no trouble, went above and beyond and ignored any politics in the office. I did all this and it was challenging in the environment in which I found myself. One day my boss tells me that she doesn’t need someone of my level so no need for me and then turns around and hires someone at two level higher and $10K more (friend of a friend) and this is all in corporate america. I was emotional, distraught and had to leave. It took almost a year, but I pulled myself together and it took years of growth and maturity to get back to where I am at. Same exact thing (or very similar) just happened in a new organization and the same tactics, and I realize it is political and a form of keeping your enemies closer and this time I held back and waited and approached my manager and was very clear (it is now 16 years later) about the mixed messages, the betrayal, the concern and also the fact that integrity and greater good of an organization has to come first. After hour drinks and socializing should not play into career moves (I know I am being naive) but when it affects those that do not participate, it hurts and can be damaging and for my own sanity I need to clear it up and also to role model. Having said this and bored everyone, I am giving ultimatums about tone and unethical behavior. It’s tough, it’s draining and it’s difficult but for my sanity it has to be completed. I will update at a later date if anyone is interested because I am starting the processes. And, the first round prepped me for this. Thank you.

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