The Neuroscience of Trust

Employee Engagement | Neuroscience of Trust

Is there a switch in our brains that makes us trust others? And what determines when this does – or does not – happen?    


In today’s fast-paced and competitive business environment, trust is a key factor that can make or break a company’s success. Trust is more than a term; it is a feeling. It is the foundation upon which successful organizations and relationships are built. Neuroscience research has shown that trust is not just a psychological construct but is also rooted in our brain’s neural circuitry.    

But why focus on trust in the first place?    

Companies are twisting themselves into knots to empower and challenge their employees to create a state of high engagement. According to Gallup’s Meta-analysis, 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. These have a positive effect on the business as well as the employees, however, one cannot buy higher job satisfaction and engagement.   

So, what creates a difference? The answer is to build a culture of trust. You can think of trust as a leading indicator for performance: when employees feel trusted, they give more effort and are more innovative, leading to higher profits. Plus, they experience less chronic stress and are happier with their lives, and these factors fuel stronger performance.    

Breakthrough Research on Trust at Work   

A global study of over 1600 employees and managers has found that trust is highly correlated with employee satisfaction and productivity. Research showed that employees at high-trust companies were…   

  • 40% less likely to experience burnout.   
  • 50% more productive   
  • 106% more energized at work (Paul J. Zak, 2017)  

These are powerful findings and prompt the question, how can we inculcate trust among employees? To understand employees better, it is essential to gain insight into the workings of their minds. This can be achieved by delving deeper into the general working of the human brain.    

So, let us understand what runs in our brains –

We are mammals, so we have all these amazing and automatic things that happen in our brains and bodies when we engage or interact with our surroundings. Trust is, therefore, synonymous with connection and distrust is synonymous with disconnection. And why this is so heavy because as humans, for us to survive we have to feel that we are a part of something like we belong to and that we have a community.    

Neuroscience has shown that trust is mediated by the release of the hormone “oxytocin” in the brain. Oxytocin acts as a chemical messenger, and it helps us decide at a practical level whether it is ‘safe to approach’ or not, so from an evolutionary perspective, humans are unique.    

To simplify, let’s take an example of how it affects work -

Say you are working in a team and your team member treats you nicely, this means there is a positive social interaction, which causes the brain to produce oxytocin. Collectively, if there is a culture where employees are constantly causing the release of oxytocin in each other’s brains then we get all its benefits such as reduced physiological stress and increased empathy and performance.    


In conclusion, the benefits of oxytocin cannot be overstated, and understanding how to increase the release of oxytocin and build a culture of trust is crucial for organizations that seek to enhance their performance and create a positive workplace environment.   

In the next part of this series, we will explore ways to increase the release of oxytocin and provide some real-life examples of how Sankey Solutions have implemented these strategies to develop trust in their employees. So, stay tuned to learn more about how you can harness the power of oxytocin to create a culture of trust.  

 – by Mansi Chopda