Trust: How to Apply Neuroscience in Business

Trust: How to Apply Neuroscience in Business 5

In the post Employee wellbeing: wrong approaches and their impact on the cybersecurity of organizations, the relevance of this aspect for companies was already highlighted. Paul J. Zak, founding director of the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies at Claremont Graduate University, was also able to see it, since he has studied this phenomenon for more than ten years.

In an article written for the Harvard Business Review, Zak exposes that money is not what will increase the satisfaction of the personnel of organizations in the long term, as has been shown in various studies. Neither will current fashions such as business lunches with co-workers. Instead, the key lies in a very different factor: trust.

Thus, this researcher asked himself: what is the origin of trust? And he found that the answer lies in neuroscience. What makes humans trust others is nothing more and nothing less than oxytocin.

Oxytocin is a hormone that our brain secretes in social situations, among other times, modulating our behavior in these types of environments. Zak found that people with higher levels of this hormone were also more likely to share and trust other people, even if they were strangers. In addition, this is something universal that happens anywhere in the world, so it can be extrapolated to any population.

Trust in the workplace

Once identified that this hormone is a fundamental element for employee satisfaction, one wonders what are the specific actions that trigger its secretion, thus leading to an increase in trust.

After 10 years of research, Zak and his team were able to find both oxytocin catalysts and inhibitors, stress being among the latter. After determining these variables, they decided to extrapolate their research to the organizational level, carrying out different surveys and experiments to discover what management measures can foster trust.

They found eight:

  1. Recognize excellence. It’s about recognizing employees when they achieve a goal. As mentioned in the article, it is most effective when “it comes from peers, and when it’s tangible, unexpected, personal, and public”.
  2. Induce challenge stress. For workers it is important that the goals are not excessively easy. Setting concrete challenges is essential to maintain motivation, provided that these are achievable within the stipulated time frame; that is, they can be achieved if a certain effort is invested. Very difficult goals impossible to achieve or vaguely defined conceptually or in time will have the opposite effect.
  3. Autonomy on how to get the job done. Being able to organize their day-to-day activities in the company is one of the greatest incentives for employees and, as Zak points out, it also favors an environment of innovation due to the possibility of developing the different points of view of each one.
  4. Enable job crafting. This point is related to the previous one and it is about, nothing more and nothing less, than letting employees choose which projects they want to work on. The reason is simple: they will stay more motivated the more they like what they spend so much time on each day.
  5. Share the information. Lack of transparency is a big problem in many companies. As mentioned in Zak’s article, only 40% of employees say they are informed of what is happening in their company at a tactical and strategic level, which generates great stress that directly impacts the confidence they have in their own company -since, as mentioned above, stress is an oxytocin inhibitor).
  6. Intentional relationship building. The experiments that this researcher and his team carried out showed interesting results to say the least: employee performance improves when they interact with other people in the workplace.
  7. Facilitate the holistic growth of the person. Being able to learn and develop as a professional is, without a doubt, one of the great goals of any worker. However, this is not enough if personal growth is not promoted in turn, since they are two aspects that go hand in hand even though they may seem parallel.
  8. Show vulnerability. No one is perfect and therefore no one can know everything. Therefore, asking for help when it is needed will not only be positive in terms of achieving goals, but will also promote oxytocin secretion, which will result in increased confidence.
Trust: How to Apply Neuroscience in Business 6
Photo by fauxels on Pexels

Working in these eight areas will allow companies to increase the level of trust that their employees have, but one question seems logical at this point: how can their development affect the well-being of employees? Zak explains: “The effect of trust on self-reported work performance was powerful. Respondents whose companies were in the top quartile indicated they had 106% more energy and were 76% more engaged at work than respondents whose firms were in the bottom quartile. They also reported being 50% more productive—which is consistent with our objective measures of productivity from studies we have done with employees at work. Trust had a major impact on employee loyalty as well: Compared with employees at low-trust companies, 50% more of those working at high-trust organizations planned to stay with their employer over the next year, and 88% more said they would recommend their company to family and friends as a place to work”.

And that’s not all, but a positive impact was also found on job satisfaction and alignment with the company’s goals, as well as on burnout measures.


Despite the fact that some of the measures presented may seem somewhat difficult to implement, in light of the results found by Zak’s research team, the great benefit that working in them would entail for organizations seems evident.

Employees being able to work in a healthy environment is important not only for them to feel good physically and mentally, but also for companies that want to obtain optimal performance.

At Kymatio we take the wellbeing of workers seriously, which is why the tool has a wellbeing module that will help them improve their situation through personalized recommendations. It will also be useful for the organization by identifying not only the level of wellbeing at the individual, departmental and organizational level; but also the possible points of improvement and actions to be carried out.

On the other hand, Kymatio also offers help on the following points related to increasing confidence:

  • Identification of those employees whose recognition may be most critical. Of course, highlighting achievements and qualities is important for any worker; however, due to their personality or their particular situation, there may be people for whom this factor is even more precise within the different actions to be carried out to reduce their level of risk while increasing their wellbeing.
  • Measurement of worker satisfaction with aspects such as the level of autonomy when carrying out their tasks or the degree of innovation within the organization.
  • Recommendations on the optimal frequency of communication with each employee. Each person has a way of relating to others, and establishing the proper flow of communication with each one is important. In this way, they avoid being overwhelmed by too much information or, on the contrary, feeling that they need more interaction.
  • Knowledge about the situation of the staff at a relational level with the rest of their colleagues. Knowing what actions to take to improve relationships between the different people who share so much time of their day together can make a difference not only on a personal level, but also professionally. Rowing in the same direction is essential to achieve the objectives optimizing both resources and time.