February 24, 2017

Recently, I read a fascinating article by Paul J. Zak in the Harvard Business Review on trust. After decades of research, Zak has proven a strong connection between trust and happiness, and he was able to correlate that research to corporate culture and employee engagement:

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.

As a long-time advocate for cultivating openness and honesty in corporate culture, trust seems like an obvious quality to me.  But Zak notes – and I see it, too – that even though today’s leaders know it’s important for success, they struggle with how to foster trust with and among employees.

In his article, Zak suggested several ways leaders can work to cultivate greater trust in their organizations. Most notably, he spoke to the importance of sharing information broadly, making everyone in the company aware of the “flight plan”; intentionally building relationships, hosting lunch gatherings, after-work events and team-building activities help employees develop social connections to each other; and showing vulnerability by asking for help. Each of these has roots in candor – having open, honest, respectful conversations and relationships, in which all parties genuinely have everyone’s best interests in mind.

Zak offers other ways leaders can cultivate trust:

  • Recognize excellence, immediately and in tangible, unexpected, personal, and public ways.
  • Induce “challenge stress”, with challenges that are “attainable and have a concrete end point.”
  • Give people discretion in how they do their work.
  • Enable job crafting, trusting employees to focus their energies on what matters most to them.
  • And, facilitate whole-person growth, developing people personally as well as professionally.

I am impressed with the science behind Zak’s advice (click here to read his full article), but more so I am hopeful that a shift toward increasing employee engagement through trust will have great impact on the success of our organizations. What will you do starting today to improve trust (and therefore happiness) in your organization?