The Impact of Trust


Nan Russell

Did you know that employees who distrust their leaders are more likely to seriously contemplate changing employers, report feeling more stressed, or engage in less positive or productive behaviors? What’s the impact of trust or distrust having on your bank?

Maybe you’ve seen the Cornell research that found hotels with managers whose actions matched their words were more profitable; or the Canadian retail study where customer service, staff performance, and sales were found to be higher where employees’ felt trusted.

Maybe you’ve seen the findings linking higher financial performance with employee engagement, punctuated by Gallup research identifying the chances of employees being engaged when don’t trust their leaders as one in 12, versus one in two when they do.

Or maybe you’ve read Amy Lyman’s work on the 100 Best Companies to work for which concludes, “Companies whose employees praise the high levels of trust in their workplace are, in fact, among the highest performers, beating the average annualized returns of the S&P 500 by a factor of three.”

These studies all touch on elements of trust’s impact at work. But there are many more ways to see its results. How can you quantify the impact of trust on your workplace?

Here are a few ways:

  • Greater profitability
  • Decreased turnover of top performers
  • Increased employee engagement
  • Heightened customer service
  • Expanded staff well-being
  • More collaboration and teamwork
  • Better relationships
  • Higher productivity
  • Enhanced creativity and innovation
  • All of the above and more

But despite these positive effects trust brings, there’s an often ignored reality challenging many organizations’ results. Chris Hitch, Program Director at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, in the white paper How to Build Trust in an Organization, captures that reality this way, “Unfortunately, many senior leaders cannot seem to shake the top-down model of management that adheres to the notion that authority creates trust. In reality, trust creates authority.”

Want to attract and retain top performers? Enhance innovation? Increase service, engagement, productivity, and results? Then consider this reality – having a winning culture founded on authentic trust is not an HR “nice” to do, but in this post-recession era it’s a strategic imperative. Bottom line: trust creates, builds, and sustains results. But how do you build trust in an era of distrust and growing cynicism? That’s the challenge for most leaders in this new era.

Nan Russell is a workplace expert and former Vice President of a multibillion dollar company. She’s the author of three books including her latest: The Titleless Leader. She’s also a national speaker and a blogger for Psychology Today on the topic of Trust: The New Workplace Currency. More at She will present at the IBA Human Resources Conference on April 16-17.


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