The Neuroscience of Trust

20 May, 2021

Creating an employee-centric culture can be good for business. The rewards include higher productivity, better-quality products, and increased profitability. But how do you do that effectively? Paul J. Zak decided to find out.

Culture is typically designed in an ad hoc way around random perks. And despite the evidence that you can’t buy higher job satisfaction, organisations still use golden handcuffs to keep good employees in place. While such efforts might boost workplace happiness in the short term, they fail to have any lasting effect on talent retention or performance. Building a culture of trust is what makes a meaningful difference. Employees in high-trust organizations are more productive, have more energy at work, collaborate better with their colleagues, and stay with their employers longer than people working at low-trust companies. They also suffer less chronic stress and are happier with their lives, and these factors fuel stronger performance.

Compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies report: 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work,50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement,29% more satisfaction with their lives, 40% less burnout.

In an effort to understand how company culture affects performance, Zak began measuring the brain activity of people while they worked. His neuroscience experiments and surveys revealed eight management behaviours that leaders can effectively use to create and manage a culture of trust: 1. Recognize excellence. 2. Induce “challenge stress.” 3. Give people discretion in how they do their work. 4. Enable job crafting. 5. Share information broadly. 6. Intentionally build relationships 7. Facilitate whole-person growth. 8. Show vulnerability. (You can read the full descriptions of each here)

As we emerge from the pandemic and its impact on global economies, the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer has identified widespread mistrust of societal institutions and leaders around the world. Adding to this is a failing  trust ecosystem which leaves the four institutions – business, government, NGOs and media – in an environment of information bankruptcy and a mandate to rebuild trust and chart a new path forward.

Edelman defines trust as “the ultimate currency in the relationship that all institutions—companies and brands, governments, NGOs and media—build with their stakeholders. Trust defines an organization’s license to operate, lead and succeed. Trust is the foundation that allows an organization to take responsible risk, and, if it makes mistakes, to rebound from them.”

What’s your role in shaping culture and building trust in your organisation and sector? How prepared are you to respond to the enormous challenges facing leaders globally?

Harvard Buisness Review, Paul J. Zak, January 2017. Read the full article here.

Cranlana Centre for Ethical Leadership’s programs include the 2 day Executive Ethics, 6 day Executive Colloquium and year-long Vincent Fairfax Fellowship. We also deliver online and tailored corporate programs. Find the right program for you. They are all held under the Chatham House Rule to encourage genuine and open debate, and allow participants to candidly discuss sometimes sensitive issues in private while allowing the topic and nature of the debate to be made public, and contribute to a broader conversation. The alumni program offers ongoing leadership development support and a lifelong connection with Cranlana.

Photo by Zdeněk Macháček on Unsplash