Building Trust in Business Anastasia Dimitriadou on the science of trust
Company Culture

Trust is a deeply human need, but it doesn’t always translate well in the workplace.

Just ask Anastasia Dimitradou, PhD and head researcher at Toronto-based communications firm Aegis. She’s traveled Europe and North America studying how companies earn and build trust, and how trusting relationships—or a lack thereof—can impact the bottom line.

“Trust is an elusive concept,” she explains. “It’s very difficult to define. But it’s at the heart of every business relationship—from branding, to advisors and clients, to employees and HR.”

“Trust is at the heart of every business relationship, from advisors and clients to employees and HR.”

We spoke with Anastasia to learn about her research and her upcoming Toronto workshop, Establishing Trust in Business. There, she’ll explore strategies to help companies build trusting relationships with their clients and employees.

Can you tell us about your background and work at Aegis?

I studied social anthropology and politics, and have a PhD in sociology from UCL Institute of Education in London, UK. I’ve also worked as a college and university lecturer in the UK, and have carried out extensive research on various social issues in the education, health, and social fields through mostly ethnographic methods.

Part of Aegis’ mission is to help companies establish, strengthen, and leverage trust with their customers so they can create stronger and more sustainable communication strategies. My personal research is on trust as an element of social capital. With Aegis, we’re looking even more closely into trust in the business context.

What is it about trust in the business context that differs from other types of relationships?

We have a deep human need to trust. But when we think about business, that human aspect quickly goes away. In tech, for example, we focus on the product: its security features and reliability. But at the end of the day, human beings are still running the company and we need to trust in their choices and abilities.

“When we think about business,the human aspect of trust quickly goes away.”

What are the different types of trust within the business context?

This goes back to trust being hard to define. It can take different meanings and forms. For example, people are more likely to trust in companies with a very strong brand. But they might not trust a particular advisor within that company, so there are already two levels.

There’s also trust within the business: building trust between employees, management, and HR, for example.

This question of trust and HR comes up quite often. Many employees feel like HR is on the ‘corporate’ side and won’t act in their best interest. What can HR do to build more trust?

People would rather put trust in existing relationships rather than trusting the mere existence of HR.

One thing we emphasize is that trust takes time and investment. It’s an ongoing relationship, not a one-time transaction where you buy something and never see the cashier ever again. Employees won’t trust in HR just because it’s there. They need to have that connection.

“Employees won’t trust in HR just because it’s there.”

What about the business case for trust? Research has found that employees in high-trust organizations are more productive, have more energy at work, collaborate better, stay with their companies longer, and have less chronic stress.

That research shows a connection between increased oxytocin and levels of trust in humans. I’d agree that in business, staff productivity and commitment is maximized in high-trust organizations. However, trust in any relationship—including between employees—is not a linear one, it tends to fluctuate.

When trust within an organization peaks, performance and commitment peak, too. At the same time, we know that employee performance improves when receiving positive feedback from management.

So, the questions that need further exploration are: does a decrease in trust negatively affect employee performance and commitment? And what other factors, either internal or external (i.e. change management versus changes in legislation) that affect trust and productivity?

“When trust within an organization peaks, employee performance and commitment peak, too.”

These are the types of questions we’re hoping to explore in the workshop.

Can you tell us a little more about the Establishing Trust in Business workshop?

The aim of the workshop is to explore the concept, to look at the ways we learn to trust, and then to apply it in a business context.

It will be less of a presentation and more interactive: I’d like to invite participants to share their experiences with building trust in their everyday work. At the end, they can learn valuable human insights and strategies that can help them and their companies build sustainable, trusting relationships.

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Establishing Trust in Business is a free event taking place Tuesday, May 30th at Lighthouse Labs in Toronto. It’s part of Business is People series, hosted by Aegis and Peeps, a global human affairs magazine.

We’re very excited to attend the first workshop in this series. Register for the free workshop now to join Anastasia Dimitriadou, Collage, and Toronto business leaders learn about building trust in business, and how trusting relationships can help strengthen our