LifeXchange

The Science of Workplace Trust: Try These 18 Ways to Boost Trust in Your Company

Studies show workplace trust boosts productivity by 50%; Here’s how it works and how to boost trust at every level: Between people, trust in leaders and in your whole business

Building trust in the workplace seems like such an obvious thing to do. But a 2016 survey by workplace research company EY showed that just under half (46%) of employees actually trust the companies they work for.

And this is while, in that same year, PWC’s global CEO survey showed that 55% of company leadership considers workplace trust as the single most important element to their companies’ failure or success. Clearly, there’s something we’re missing about how trust works.

Luckily, there are years of study data and loads of exciting neuroscience that shows that trust in the workplace leads to healthier, happier employees and dramatically higher productivity.

So, our team asks what exactly is workplace trust, why is trust so important at work, the neuroscience behind trust and how to build trust at every level in your company: Between people, their leaders and what builds trust between your employees and your company, too:

WHAT IS TRUST IN THE WORKPLACE?

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The textbook definition of trust is when we have a firm belief in someone (or something)’s reliability, truth and abilities. But what does that look like at work? The key is integrity. When someone or something is consistent (reliable), we recognise truthfulness in what they say and do, and we can implicitly rely on their capabilities to deliver (often for the greater good), we say we can trust them. 

It’s usually an emotional response between people. But it goes both ways: Just like we need employees to be reliable, they need to “feel” that our companies have integrity and consistency.

Trust is the foundation of all successful relationships. Now, we know that the most powerful relationships are those where both parties feel like they can truly be themselves around each other. So you can probably already see the problem most owners/managers/leaders will have with the idea of “truly being yourself” in the business context. But the fact is there’s an enormous amount of research that shows it’s definitely the way to go.

WHY IS TRUST IMPORTANT?

One of the biggest studies on the effects of workplace trust is Sarah Brown’s 2015 study that surveyed thousands of employees at over 1500 companies, finding that workplace trust definitely increased productivity. A smaller study of two Nike factories in Mexico by R. Locke and M. Romis found that the factory where employers put huge value on trust in the workplace was twice as productive as the other non-trusting factory, and it produced its products at a lower cost.

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But perhaps one of the most far-reaching studies on trust is the 10+-year research by Paul J Zak. It found that at what it calls “high-trust” companies, employees were 74% less stressed, 76% more engaged and took 13% fewer sick days.

And, importantly, Zak’s study also shows that with trust employes had 106% more energy at work, which ultimately led to 50% more productivity.

Why? Because trust is the key to unlocking all the positive behaviours you want from employees. In all the psychosocial and resilience theories we refer to, you’ll notice that trust is always right at the top. It’s the first necessary step in our personal development (which happens whenever an employee joins your company), and it’s what unlocks an employee’s ability to drive themselves, dig deeper, be industrious and manage themselves.

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See: Trust is the very first point on Erikson’s Theory of human development, it’s a crucial ingredient in creating the vital sense of Belonging in the Circle of Courage theory, and it’s the first step towards creating the Connection that leads to competence, responsibility and purpose, according to the Human Development Cycle.

ANOTHER NB REASON TO FOCUS ON TRUST

According to LifeXchange Solutions founder, Dr Cobus Oosthuizen (PhD in Human Behaviour), who gets called in to assist many SA companies with people and organisational matters, a lack of trust is also the number one cause for all of the negative behaviours we see at companies today: low productivity, an unmotivated workforce, a lack of creativity, incivility at work.

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“At almost 90% of the companies that call us in to help, we find that people feel they can’t trust their managers and leadership, they can’t trust the company, and they often can’t trust each other. And that’s when things go wrong,” he says.

THE NEUROSCIENCE OF TRUST

Paul Zak’s decades-long study of trust eventually found that trust is regulated in the brain by the chemical neuropeptide oxytocin – published in 2005 in Nature.com. It’s a hormone that your pituitary gland releases when you bond with someone socially. And it’s the key to understanding what builds trust and what doesn’t in business.

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Much of what we know about building trust comes from either measuring the oxytocin levels in people’s brains or from people’s own feedback measured against company performance. And here’s how we use science to help you build trust in your company:

HOW TO BUILD TRUST IN THE WORKPLACE (ACCORDING TO SCIENCE)

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Remember we said that we’re looking at trust at every level in a company? That’s important because most of the information about trust in business on the internet only focus on how to make your employees trust your company. But that’s already an integrity problem.

No, trust goes both ways. So, we’re going to show you 18 ways to build trust at multiple levels in your company:

5 WAYS TO BUILD WORKPLACE TRUST BETWEEN PEOPLE AND TEAMS

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How social connections lead to profit. The science of “challenge stress”. And what a culture of trust looks like. Click through to watch the video of how this top international CEO builds high-performance companies on the principles of trust and social connection, and discover 5+ ways to build trust in a team.

6 WAYS TO BUILD TRUST BETWEEN EMPLOYEES AND LEADERS

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The three elements of leadership. What people want in a leader. And how to boost individuals into spaces where they can really perform. The main friction point for most people is between them and their superiors (people leave jobs if they have a boss they can’t stand). And a big part of that dynamic is the level of trust they have in leaders. Click through to watch the vid on what a leader actually is, and discover 6 ways to build trust in leadership.

7 WAYS TO BUILD TRUST IN YOUR ENTIRE COMPANY

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What Google and Netflix do right. Why high-trust companies win. And how to become one. Creating a company-wide culture of trust is perhaps the most far-reaching way to utilise trust to push your business into a bold new era. And you’ll be surprised at how simple some of the steps seem if you really think about it. See 7 ways to build trust in your company.


Get the best of all our organisational development services with our all-new personal and business Growth Journal.

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Get the full #HowYourMindWorks picture with the super-simple explanation of complex behaviour that took 10 years to create at our post on How Your Brain Works.

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Also learn about the most fundamental part of your brain, the neuron and how thoughts affect business behaviour with our look at neural pathways and the root of most of the behavioural problems we see, automatic memory recall.

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And see these 8 SA businesspeople’s top highlights from our recent Neuro HR Workshop.

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Why money doesn’t always work and we sometimes experience mental pushback: Discover the weird science behind employee motivation.

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