Want Happier Employees? Build Trust

At a national level, trust is even more important than education, status or even wealth in creating well-being among people.

“Business works more efficiently and better when people can trust each other.” —Lessons from Denmark

At Blue Zones, we focus on creating long-term strategies for helping people live longer, better. Here are a few evidence-based ways for you to create greater trust in the workplace.

1. Create a workplace bill of rights

Why do it? Researchers found that universalistic workplaces, which hire and promote based on universally agreed-on standards, foster greater trust than particularistic environments, where success is based on subjective personal factors, because employees believe everyone is held to the same standards.[1]

How to do it: Collectively create a workplace “bill of rights” that includes rules, expectations and goals everyone is expected to follow, then post in a public area. During employee evaluations, focus on objective performance measures and adherence to the bill of rights rather than personality traits.

2. Form moais based on common interests

Why do it? A study on workplace relationships found that when people consider themselves part of a group that shares similar goals and values they are more likely to perceive the other group members to be trustworthy. In other words, we trust people more when we know we have something in common with them.[2]

How to do it: Form office moais – small groups of people who meet socially outside of work – based on shared characteristics (favorite food, favorite type of movie etc). Choose a new moai theme every quarter so eventually each employee learns something they have in common with everyone else.

3. Hit the right manager/employee ratio

Why do it? According to a study on organizational structure and trust, workplaces that consist of many managers and a mix of different occupations score highest on employee trust.[3] That’s because they tend to foster less of an “us vs. them” mentality than workplaces with just a few managers in charge of a large number of employees.

How to do it: Consider breaking out more and smaller departments, each with an individual manager. If re-structuring the org chart is out of the question, assign team leads or similar types of roles to spread leadership responsibilities throughout the organization.

4. Discuss it in person rather than in email

Why do it? Human interaction is key to building relationships. In a survey of employees’ preferred communication style, 90 percent of respondents chose face-to-face communication as their top choice – yet employees reported that their bosses communicated with them face-to-face only 49 percent of the time.[4]

How to do it: Launch a “say it to my face” campaign. Work with employees to delineate between communication that requires an email and communication that can happen face-to-face. Place reminders around the office to opt for in-person communication whenever possible.

5. Encourage cube creativity

Why do it? A British study found that the more control people have over their office space, the happier they tend to be. When employees are given the freedom to decorate and design their workspace according to their own tastes, they feel more physically comfortable, identify more with their employer, and feel more positively about their jobs in general.[5]

How to do it: Beyond encouraging employees to bring photos, plants and other personal touches, allow them to choose their chair, adjust the area lighting, and control their privacy with modular partitions.

By: Alexandra Smith


[1] Pearce, J. L., Branyiczki, I., & Bigley, G. A. (2000). Insufficient bureaucracy: trust and commitment in particularistic organizations. Organization Science, (2), 148.

[2] Williams, M. (2001). In who we trust: Group membership as an affective context for trust development. Academy Of Management Review, 26(3), 377-396. doi:10.5465/AMR.2001.4845794

[3] Blunsdon, B., & Reed, K. (2003). The effects of technical and social conditions on workplace trust. International Journal Of Human Resource Management, 14(1), 12-27.

[4] Mackenzie, M. L. (2010). Manager communication and workplace trust: Understanding manager and employee perceptions in the e-world. International Journal Of Information Management, 30(6), 529-541. doi:10.1016/j.ijinfomgt.2010.04.001

[5] Designing your own workspace improves health, happiness and productivity. (2010). Management Services, 54(4), 6-7.

Related Articles