York survey finds trust is important in the workplace

Workers who believe they are trusted by their bosses bring higher sales and better customer service ratings to their companies, according to a study led by York University and published Friday in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

Researchers studied 88 locations of a major retail store in Canada with thousands of employees, for almost two years. They found that workers’ perception of the degree of trust bestowed upon them does affect their performance.

Right: A survey led by York researchers finds that workers’ perception of the degree of trust bestowed upon them does affect their performance

“There is a big debate in management philosophy about whether controlling or empowering employees is the best way to go,” said York Professor Sabrina Deutsch-Salamon, lead author of the study. “Our results support the notion that managers who communicate a sense of trust get the best from their employees.”

Employees who feel trusted are also more willing to take responsibility for the organization’s overall performance and work harder to please its customers, the study found.

“It’s clear that this is the sort of engagement organizations should be interested in, because it leads to much higher levels of cooperation among employees,” said Deutsch-Salamon, who teaches organizational behaviour in the Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies at York.

The researchers collected data from two sources: the retail chain’s archival records measuring sales and customer service performance for each location, as well as employee annual surveys. The surveys – conducted anonymously – directly questioned employees about how trusted they felt by their managers.

“The locations we investigated used similar monitoring and surveillance systems to track employees, yet we found that some were able to foster a trusting environment and others were not,” Deutsch-Salamon said. “This suggests that employees’ perceptions of being trusted are not just prompted by formal mechanisms in the organizations, but are likely affected significantly by their everyday communication with managers.”

The study, published by the American Psychological Association, is co-authored by University of British Columbia Professor Sandra Robinson.