Common sense tells us that employee trust is good for business. Now there’s scientific proof to confirm that common sense. In an article in the Harvard Business Review, neuro-economist and researcher Paul J. Zack describes a study where he found that 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, and 40% less burnout than people at low trust companies.”
To find out why, Zack and his colleagues studied the oxytocin levels of test subjects in experiments in which trust was tested. (Oxytocin is the brain chemical that creates pleasure.) He found that oxytocin levels go higher when people trust others and get good results. He also found that oxytocin levels go higher in those who are trusted by others.
So the question is: how can we, as managers, raise trust levels with our employees? Again, common sense applies. We tend to trust those who prove to be trustworthy. So, how can managers prove their trustworthiness as it resides in the minds of employees? Zack offered eight suggestions.
1. Recognize excellence
This makes sense. Employees trust that you recognize and appreciate the good work they do. When you do this, especially in public, it let’s them know that you’re on top of things and are taking notice. Zack found that public recognition of actual achievements is a high producer of oxytocin.
2. Induce challenge stress
When employees are given achievable but challenging assignments on which they can make visible progress, oxytocin levels rise. This is even more the case when they can do so in concert with others. If you’ve ever been on a winning sports team, you know the positive feelings that come from that challenging collaboration.
3. Give people discretion in how they do their work
A 2014 Citigroup and LinkedIn survey found that nearly half of employees would give up a 20% raise for greater control over how they work. This is easier said than done if you feel the need to meddle in employees’ work. Letting go lies at the heart of effective delegation. That doesn’t mean not holding people accountable for results. It simply means treating them like adults. In other words, trusting that they can figure out how to achieve a successful outcome.
4. Enable job-crafting
This means that to the extent possible, allow employees to choose projects in which they have interest. Google employs this concept with their 20% Rule which says that every employee must carve out 20% of his or her time to work on a project of his or her own choosing. This gets down to what goes around comes around. When you trust employees to to craft their own work, then employee trust of you naturally follows.
5. Share information broadly
The term transparency has been bandied about in today’s political rhetoric. Within organizations, transparency means letting people in on what is going on. In my April, 2016 blog titled “Meritocracy and Success,” I discussed Ray Dalio, co-founder of Bridgewater Associates. With $152 billion in assets and 1500 employees, it is the world’s largest hedge fund. At Bridgewater, almost all meetings are recorded (except those where there’s an overriding reason for privacy, ie private information about a client.) Anyone can have access to these recordings. Dalio appears to be of the strong conviction that leaders should never treat people like mushrooms (keep them in the dark, feed them “mushroom food” and then can them.) He sites this approach to building employee trust as a key factor in Bridgewater’s success.
6. Intentionally build relationships
Zack points out a Google study that found that the teams of managers who “express interest in and concern for team members’ success and personal well-being” outperform others in the quality and quantity of their work. That means getting to know your people and expressing interest in their lives. In my management workshops, I like to ask the question, “How many of you can name the children of your employees?” It’s surprising how few raise their hands. Employee trust may not depend on you knowing their children’s names, but it never hurts.
7. Facilitate whole person growth
I recently interviewed Bruce Seilhammer, president of the Association for Electrical & Systems Contractors. To reduce turnover, he invests in training for his employees that goes far beyond the apprenticeship and other legal requirements of the craft. He says that it makes them better employees and happier people. Additionally, if they leave and take those skills with them (skills that he paid for,) they often come back because they find other employers are not nearly so generous. His impression is that it builds employee trust because his people believe he has their best intersts at heart.
8. Show vulnerability
Zack’s research found that “this stimulates oxytocin production in others, increasing their trust and cooperation. Asking for help is a sign of a secure leader—one who engages everyone to reach goals.” This also means admitting when you’re wrong. It seems politicians could learn from this one.
So Many Ways To Build Employee Trust
So if you buy the fact that employees do better when they trust you, it’s probably good to show you are trustworthy. Who would have guessed there are so many ways to do that?