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Trust – a time-bomb leaders can help defuse

Updated: Apr 17, 2019

Trust is the unequivocal belief in the reliability of someone or something. Developing trust is an essential social tool, allowing people to form productive and meaningful relationships, both at a professional and personal level. It is for this reason we should be worried about the worrying results from the Edelman Trust Barometer.

Trust on the decline

Trust is on the decline in almost every direction we turn. In fact, 2017 saw the largest ever drop in trust across government, institutions, organisations, media, and NGOs (Edelman Trust Barometer, 2017). During a period when organisations are constantly changing and great employees are becoming difficult to retain, it is alarming that trust is declining when we need it most. With this in mind, I felt inclined to share the impact of trust on individuals, the importance of a trustworthy leader, and simple ways you can build trust.

Trust the “trust” hormone

Zak and Knack (2001) made a breakthrough when they uncovered a link between the hormone Oxytocin and trust. In their experiment, they found that those with high levels of Oxytocin were more trustworthy and also more likely to trust others. Additional studies found that those with high levels of Oxytocin also showed greater empathy. Biological evidence tells us that trust has neurological implications and so should be focused on, especially in the workplace.

Is your leadership based on trust?

Trust in the workplace is starting to be taken more seriously and organisations are realising the impact trust has on organisational effectiveness. Research from the Edelman Trust Barometer shows us that CEO credibility is at an all-time low and down in 28 countries compared to previous years. This is interesting, because a person’s credibility is one characteristic which we as humans instantly evaluate to determine if someone is trustworthy or not. If senior leaders are not credible, then employees are less likely to trust in them, which in turn can have a negative impact on the effectiveness of an organisation. A high-trust organisation on the other hand has shown to elicit a range of positive organisational outcomes as mentioned in the Harvard business review:

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.

How do great leaders inspire trust?

Contrary to belief, building trust does not have to take time. There are certain behaviours which can help senior leaders to engender trust almost immediately and become more credible in the process. You can find some simple ways in which you can build trust below:

  • Ice breaker activities

  • Living and breathing the organisational values daily

  • Regular conversations with employees about non-work related topics. How many of you know your employees’ hobbies, their pet’s name, whether they have any siblings or not?

  • Being honest and open in your communications

  • Keep your promises


I will conclude by highlighting a poignant message I came across in a recent article by the Harvard Business Review:

“Organisations still use golden handcuffs to keep good employees in place”.

Superficial perks such as football tables, pools tables, and gourmet meals out are lovely benefits to have and may increase employee happiness in the short-term, but is not the key to long-term success. However, a working environment where employees wholeheartedly believe in, trust, and back the leadership team, as well as each other, will more likely retain talent, increase employee engagement, and improve performance.

Leaders who live and breathe organisational values daily have a greater opportunity to build trust in their employees and reap the rewards in doing so. If you would like to know more about how we can help, please contact tina.hennessey@dragonfishuk.com


Harvard Business review http://www.compensationforce.com/2017/04/2016-turnover-rates-by-industry.html https://www.cipd.co.uk/knowledge/culture/ethics/outlook-trust-leaders-report# Zak, Kurzban, and Matzner (2005). “Oxytocin is associated with human trustworthiness”. Hormones and behaviour.