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Without Trust,
Life is Not Worth Living

-- Confucius

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Impact of Workplace Trust on Well-being

December, 2010 by Robert Porter Lynch

What is the biggest factor in a person’s well-being? This question was posed by John Helliwell of the University of British Columbia Economics Department. He and his team conducted several studies between 2001 and 2010, and analyzed nearly 30,000 survey responses across the United States and Canada. He found that, surprisingly, it was neither money nor education that produced the highest well-being ratings. 

He discovered: “Workplace trust is one of the most important [factors] in explaining well-being, across groups of populations, across surveys, and across countries.”

He also observed that significant trust in workplace colleagues carried over into close relationships with these same people outside of work, as well as with personal friendships and in the community in general, stating: “Without trust, people are loath to reach out, and to make the social connections that underpin any collaborative action.” He concluded stating simply: “Trust improves health and saves lives.”

Helliwell’s findings also noted a difference between men and women: “Women are significantly more trusting of their co-workers [than men] …. attaching higher values to workplace trust and choosing workplaces marked by higher trust ….but are less likely to place trust in strangers.” 

Helliwell’s other conclusions were quite revealing, and some might be considered astonishing:

    • Our results show that those who feel themselves to be living in a trustworthy environment have much higher levels of subjective well-being.
    • Household income does not appear in the trust equations, since it was found to have no significant effects.
    • Having high trust in co-workers, which we find to be the largest of all the specific directional trust measures, is associated with 7.6% higher life satisfaction. This is followed trust in neighbors (5%), confidence in police (3%), and a belief that a stranger would return your lost wallet (2.5%). How much higher life satisfaction is for those who have high levels of trust in all these life domains? The answer is more than 18%.
    • Increasing trust in management by just one point higher on a ten-point scale has the equivalent effect on life satisfaction as a 40% increase in income.


If your company has low trust, it probably has high absenteeism, high turnover, a bad attitude, labor strife, unhealthy workers, and poor performance.

Just improving trust by a factor of ten percent would remedy many of the ills of the company, increase profitability, and provide as much increase in people’s overall life satisfaction as a 40% pay raise.

That sounds like a very powerful return on investment.

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