An article in the January-February issue of the Harvard Business Review covered one of my favorite topics: Trust in the workplace.

In “The Neuroscience of Trust,” Paul J. Zak addresses new research which shows the highest trust workplaces are also the highest performing. This isn’t just a theory—it’s well established, with lots of research to confirm it.

Recent neuroscience research shows that fostering organizational trust increases employees’ productivity, improves collaboration, and cultivates a happier, more loyal workforce. Over half of CEOs surveyed believe that a lack of trust threatens their organizational growth.

Employees at high trust companies report having:

  • 106% more energy That’s twice as much as employees at companies with low trust.
  • 74% less stress
  • 13% fewer sick days This is probably close to the percentage of mental health days people take in high stress, negative environments.
  • 76% higher engagement The brass ring, especially in an environment where the rate of engagement is still rather low coming out of the recession.
  • 29% more satisfaction
  • 40% less burnout

There are eight management behaviors that Dr. Zak identified that go into creating this atmosphere of trust.

  1. Recognize excellence And it’s essential that excellence is recognized in real time. The broader the recognition, the more impactful it is.
  2. Induce challenge stress “We’re going to accomplish something which isn’t impossible but will require significant effort.” Daniel Pink’s excellent book, Drive, states that the three principles for motivation are economy, mastery, and purpose. Workers who understand the work they’re doing has purpose and impact will have a much higher level of engagement.
  3. Discretion High autonomy equals high trust and high satisfaction; the opposite of this is micromanagement, which creates the least trusting environments and really erodes trust.
  4. Enable job crafting You’ve probably read about the principle of holacracy: a lack of company organization where people are allowed to do whatever it is that they’re most interested in doing. Clearly, there is a limit, especially in smaller companies, but if we can offer our teams the opportunity to choose projects or individuals to choose specific roles, we will engender a higher trust environment.
  5. Share information broadly To some Boomers and Great Generation folks, this may seem crazy, yet for Gen X, Millennials, and Gen C, there is an expectation that information about the enterprise, including profit and loss, trends in the business, etc., be roundly shared. The more broadly the information is shared, the higher a sense of trust and ownership.
  6. Intentionally build relationships Organizations where teams feel they have the deepest and best relationships are those with the highest levels of trust and engagement.
  7. Facilitate whole person growth Focus on each individual employee in a 360-degree context. Companies that recognize the need for whole person growth are getting the most productivity, both in terms of quality and quantity, out of each team member.
  8. Show vulnerability Showing vulnerability, not in a goofy way but in a merely human way, is tremendously powerful. For a lot of people, this will be a bit of a stretch and it’s one of the reasons we’re hearing so much about emotional intelligence in the workplace. For example, rather than delegate a task or order someone to do something, ask for help on a given initiative. This puts the person asking for help in a vulnerable position. The person who is asked is then in a position to demonstrate whether to honor that vulnerability and behave in a trustworthy way. That’s the essential transaction: one person trusting another.

So how is the trust level around your operation? Let us know in the comments what you’ve done to engender a more trusting workplace. And as always, email me at if you want to set up a time to talk.
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