All You Need is Trust

Making your employees and your organization healthier and happier.

Autonomy produces innovation.

“Give someone a pay raise and they’ll be happy for a day,” a former manager of mine used to say.

Now I have to admit that my happiness lasted a bit longer. How much longer, I can’t say because I never measured it. I do know, however, that he was right in that the raise-job connection was short lived. Yes, I was happy to earn more money, but the prospect of getting a raise did not buy job satisfaction. The raise was not what made me jump out of bed every morning happy to go to work.

So what did? What was the secret of my joy and the joy of my team members who shared my feelings about work? In other words, what made working for my manager and the company so much fun?

The answer is simple. He created an environment of trust and gave us purpose.

You see, we weren’t just cogs in the wheel, making the company move forward, but easily replaceable. He encouraged us to develop better ways to do our jobs. What’s more, he gave us credit for our work. He trusted us to come up with good ideas and we trusted him and the corporation. The trust he created amongst us spilled over onto other aspects of our environment. Even through tough times, like a period of layoffs, we continued to be engaged in our work because we trusted him to look out for our best interest. And he always did.

While I don’t know how he developed his management style, I do know that science backs his method.

Whether he knew it or not, trust and purpose work together to stimulate the extended release of oxytocin, a hormone that produces happiness.

In his article The Neuroscience of Trust, Paul J. Zak, a key researcher in the field wrote,

“In my research I’ve found that building a culture of trust is what makes a meaningful difference. Employees in high-trust organizations are more productive, have more energy at wok, 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.”

Based on his research, Zak has identified eight behaviors a manager can adopt to create and nurture trust — behaviors that mirror those of my former manager.

It seems as if companies are getting the message — sort of.

I recently read an article describing how more and more companies are taking a page out of the 3M playbook and giving employees time to work on their passion projects. The article’s author quotes employees who are full of positive feedback.

Maeve McCoy, who used a company sponsored hackathon to develop an idea to improve an existing app said,

“I think sometimes people get stuck in the monotony of doing work and then releasing it, and then moving onto the next feature. But I like being able to step back and humanize a problem and step in the shoes of our customers and figure out what can make their lives easier.”

Briana Crabb who participated in one of her company’s think tanks said,

“Personally, these sort of things are what make me happiest about where I’m working. I’ve talked to my friends who are recently out of college, and they don’t sound as excited or even excited at all about the opportunities they’re working on. And I get to work on really cool things and love what I’m doing, so it definitely affects how I visualize my work. It not only has been motivating and inspiring, but it just keeps my day interesting.”

Obviously, these companies have managed to get the oxytocin flowing and job crafting is indeed one of Zak’s “manage for trust” points.

“When companies trust employees to choose which project they’ll work on, people focus their energies on what they care about. As a result, organizations…have highly productive colleagues who stay with the company year after year.”

I would like to see them go further, though. Why make such a big thing of giving employees time to innovate? Why not just give them the freedom to innovate, period. That’s what my manager did. He let us decide how we did our work. This happens to be another one of Zak’s “manage for trust” points.

“Once employees have been trained, allow them, whenever possible, to manage people and execute projects in their own way. Being trusted to figure things out is a big motivator…Automation also promotes innovation…”

So for you mangers out there, learn how to manage for trust. And for you employees out there, work for companies who do so. You’ll have:

  • More energy
  • Higher productivity
  • Fewer sick days
  • More engagement
  • More satisfaction with your life
  • Less burnout.

Companies will have employees with all of the above, plus the added benefit of innovation. You’ll have happy, healthy employees and a happy, healthy, innovative company. You can’t get a better return on investment than that.