Conventional wisdom holds that if only we pay employees enough they’ll be productive. There may be more to it though. Recent research shows there’s a link between employees’ happiness and their productivity at work. Some companies are taking note and already seeing the payoff!
According to Gallup’s meta-analysis of decades’ worth of data: high engagement is defined largely as having a strong connection with one’s work and colleagues, feeling like a real contributor, and enjoying ample chances to learn. This consistently leads to positive outcomes for both individuals and organisations. The rewards include higher productivity, better-quality products and increased profitability.
If this is the true bases for creating a high performing work culture ‘why are so many organisations struggling with creating an employee-centric culture?’
In its 2016 global CEO survey, PWC reported that 55% of CEOs think that a lack of trust is a threat to their organisation’s growth. However, most have done little to increase trust, mainly because they aren’t sure where to start.
Recent experiments and research by Paul Zak (Centre for neuroeconomics studies) showed that having a sense of higher purpose stimulates oxytocin production, as does trust. Trust and purpose then mutually reinforce each other, providing a mechanism for extended oxytocin release, which produces happiness. So, joy on the job comes from doing purpose-driven work with a trusted leader and team.
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.
So, experience and research prove that trust is the single most essential element to our ability to deliver extraordinary results in an enduring way. Trust is integral to building high performance because it enables an organisation to work as it should; it’s the first defence against dysfunction and the first step towards delivering better outcomes.
So, what is the science behind this?
Whilst we want productive, energetic and innovative employees who do their best every day, in the absence of trust, we run the risk of employees who feel unsafe in the workplace. What we know is, feeling unsafe can trigger a threat response. According to the neuroleadership institute, a threat response is both mentally taxing and deadly to the productivity of a person and the organisation. This response uses up oxygen and glucose from the blood, which are diverted from other parts of the brain, including the working memory function which processes new information and ideas. This impairs analytical thinking, creative insight, and problem solving; in other words, just when people most need their sophisticated mental capabilities, the brain’s internal resources are taken away from them.
The impact of this neural dynamic is often visible in organisations. For example, when leaders trigger a threat response, employees’ brains become much less efficient. When leaders make people feel good about themselves, clearly communicate their expectations, give employees latitude to make decisions, support people’s efforts to build good relationships and treat the whole organisation fairly, it prompts a reward response. Others in the organisation become more effective, more open to ideas, and more creative. They notice the kind of information that passes them by when fear or resentment makes it difficult to focus their attention. They are less susceptible to burnout because they are able to manage their stress and feel intrinsically rewarded.
So how can leaders create a culture of trust in their organisation?
1. Praise and recognition
Leaders and organisations can build trust by recognising accomplishments through constructive praise, particularly after a goal has been met. This level of recognition and praise can be delivered at the individual and group levels. Celebrating successes promotes people’s sense of status and it also inspires others to aim for excellence. In fact, neuroscience research shows that recognising and praising people lights up the same regions of the brain as a financial windfall. Recent Survey by Deloitte shows that ‘high-recognition companies’ have 31 percent lower voluntary turnover than companies with poor recognition culture.
2. Give people the empowerment to do their work
As former Apple CEO Steve Jobs famously said “it doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” Especially in a growing market, this mentality is more than a motivator for your employees, it’s a key to success. Freedom gives your superstars the opportunity to do what they do best: impress you. Presenting people with options or allowing them to organise their own work and set their own hours, is proving to be a much less stressed response rather than forcing them to follow rigid instructions and schedules. However, what is also critical here is that people are clear about their roles, their accountabilities and feel a sense of purpose about achieving their higher sense of values and contributions to the organisation.
3. Manage the need for certainty
According to Paul Zak and his recent research only 40% of employees report that they are well informed about their company goals, strategies and tactics. This uncertainty about the company’s direction leads to chronic stress which inhibits the release of oxytocin and undermines teamwork.
Leaders must work to create a perception of certainty to build confident and dedicated teams. Sharing business plans, rationales for change, and accurate maps of an organisation’s structure promotes this perception. Giving specifics about organisational restructuring helps people feel more confident about the plan and articulating how decisions are made increases trust. Transparent practices are the foundation on which the perception of certainty rests.
4. Make it a priority to build relationships
Building personal relationships with your employees is the best way to make sure they feel heard. Listen to their needs, ask what matters most to them, and find out what growth looks like in their eyes. Keeping the conversation open and informal will create an environment where employees’ personal and professional goals can be met. Superstar employees are often the ones that break the mould, so take the time to understand what makes them unique and create steps to amplify their strengths.
5. Play for Fairness
In organisations, the perception of unfairness creates an environment in which trust and collaboration cannot flourish. Leaders who play favourites or who appear to reserve privileges for people who are like them or those who don’t threaten them arouse a threat response in employees who are outside their circle.
Being a fair leader can help organisations manage change more successfully. Morale remains relatively high when people perceive that cutbacks are being handled fairly so that no one group is treated with preference and that there is a rationale for every cut.
6. Facilitate whole-person growth
A high-trusting workplace enables whole person growth, personally and professionally. Those organisations that provide clear goals, give employees the autonomy to reach them and provide consistent feedback. The backward looking annual performance review is no longer necessary. Instead leaders and staff meet more regularly and focus on personal and professional growth. These conversations include discussions about sense of purpose, work-life integration, family and leisure time. This is the approach taken by Accenture and Adobe systems. Managers can ask questions like ‘am I helping you get your next job?’
Bringing it all together
It’s critical for orgnisations to invest energy and leadership time to role model the sort of behaviour – ownership, empowerment, commitment, that is effective for an agile and productive culture. Culture needs to be reflected in everything that is undertaken by an organisation.
It’s been my experience and also concluded by the research conducted by Paul Zak, it’s not about being easy on your employees or expecting less from them. High-trust companies hold people accountable but without micromanaging them. They treat people like responsible adults.