Ernest Hemingway wrote: “The way to make people trustworthy is to trust them.” The sentiment is simple, but true. Especially in the workplace. When managers trust employees, employees tend to rise to the level of those expectations.
According to the results of research conducted by Paul J. Zak, founding director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University in California, business leaders who want workers that buzz with energy, experience significantly less stress, collaborate well, innovate and stick around for the long haul would do well to cultivate a culture of trust.
What connects organizational trust to business success? According to Zak’s research, it all comes down to a chemical in our brains called oxytocin. Oxytocin is like a glue that bonds people together. When trust is high, oxytocin is high. When oxytocin is high, trust is high. We rely on high levels of oxytocin to work effectively with others and serve customers because the chemical fosters empathy, patience and understanding — qualities that enhance teamwork and performance. When organizations promote teamwork and performance, they promote success at individual and organizational levels.
Zak and his team showed in numerous studies that organizations that ranked in the top 25th percentile of trust, when compared with those ranking in the lowest percentile, boast the following markers of success:
- Employees reported having 106 percent more energy and were 76 percent more engaged.
- Workers experienced 74 percent less stress and were 50 percent more productive.
- Team members took 13 percent fewer sick days.
- 50 percent more employees planned to remain with their organizations for the coming year.
- 88 percent more employees said they’d recommend their companies to others as a place to work.
- 60 percent more workers enjoyed their jobs and 70 percent were more aligned with company goals.
- Employees experienced 40 percent less burnout.
Based on these returns on trust, it’s difficult to understand why some organizations struggle to invest time and energy into cultivating it. According to Zak, they often don’t know where to start. Fortunately, he identified eight key management strategies to jump-start the process:
Prioritize recognition. Recognition works best when it comes soon after the achievement, comes from peers, is tangible and unexpected.
Assign Goldilocks-level team-based tasks. Zak found that teams performed their best and bonded the most when tasks were challenging, but doable.
Give people a say in how they do their jobs. Trusting employees to figure things out motivates them to try new things, innovate and self-direct.
Allow a choice of projects. Tapping into what people most care about leverages their full efforts and communicates a high degree of trust.
Communicate liberally. Uncertainty causes stress. Stress hormones inhibit oxytocin, keeping people from trusting and bonding. Communicate daily with direct reports and remain as transparent as possible.
Foster relationships. While team-building activities and social engagements outside work might seem like an extravagance, they’re actually important for solidifying connections between team members that translate to improved teamwork on the job. This is especially the case when you introduce a fun mental or physical challenge that requires employees to work together.
Promote personal and professional development. Humans want to learn and grow. The more you develop employees, the more they feel fulfilled and add value.
Ask for help. Admitting you don’t know everything constitutes one of the quickest ways to build trust. It shows you’re credible, communicates you need others and demonstrates a healthy level of vulnerability.
To measure the effectiveness of implementing these management strategies, first conduct an honest inventory of current trust levels. One way to do this is to ask employees one simple question: How much do you enjoy your job on a typical day? Why ask a question about joy to understand trust levels? Because studies demonstrate a high correlation between joy and trust, joy offers a scientifically valid way to measure trust.
Try treating your employees as trustworthy and watch as they become exactly that. The well-being of your employees and your organization could depend on it.