Unplugged: The High Cost of Losing Trust & Connection in The Workplace

By Gráinne Morrison

Sandown Business School Masters Graduate & Treble Certified Coach; Class of 2023

EIA: EMCC Senior Practitioner

In our contemporary, fast-paced, digitally-driven world, there is a critical need for personal connections within the workplace. This need is not just an optional luxury, but a mandatory necessity. Connections, especially in a professional context, pertain to the relationships and bonds formed between team members. This network of connections forms not just the social fabric but the foundational bedrock of an organisation’s culture. They play an instrumental role in shaping the overall morale, productivity, and the general atmosphere within the workplace.

When these connections are robust, vibrant, and thriving, they catalyse a multitude of positive outcomes. Employees, for instance, are likely to develop a deeper trust in each other. This trust fosters an environment where individuals feel a sense of freedom and comfort in sharing their ideas, even those that may defy or challenge the status quo. Employees are encouraged to take calculated risks, secure in the knowledge that their colleagues will support them. They are also less afraid to make mistakes, viewing them not as failures, but as valuable opportunities for learning and growth.

This level of trust, which is a direct by-product of strong connections, can lead to increased collaboration and innovation. It cultivates a sense of unity and shared purpose, a belief that everyone is working collaboratively towards a common goal. This is why workplaces with strong connections often enjoy higher levels of productivity and employee satisfaction.

However, when the strength of these connections wanes, the workplace can quickly devolve into a more challenging environment. Trust can erode at an alarming pace, leaving behind a trail of suspicion, doubt, and uncertainty. Employees may become more guarded in their interactions, and more hesitant to share their thoughts, ideas and perspectives. The once vibrant, dynamic atmosphere may become tense and restrictive, effectively stifling creativity and putting a dampener on innovation.

The negative impact of this weakened connection is widespread. It can lead to a significant decrease in overall productivity and morale. Individuals might start feeling isolated, and undervalued, leading to disengagement and potentially even leading to attrition. The organisation as a whole can suffer, as the loss of trust can alter team dynamics and negatively affect bottom-line results.

So, why does a loss of connection, lead to a loss of trust? This can be explained by looking at neurochemistry. Human connections and trust are linked to the release of hormones and neurotransmitters such as oxytocin and dopamine. Oxytocin, often called the ‘trust hormone’ or ‘bonding hormone’, is released during positive social interactions and is associated with feelings of trust, bonding and empathy. Dopamine, associated with pleasure and reward, is released when we achieve a goal or receive positive feedback, reinforcing our behaviours and encouraging us to repeat them.

In a thriving workplace with strong connections, these neurochemicals create a positive feedback loop. Trust and positive interactions stimulate oxytocin release, which further strengthens trust and interpersonal bonds. Achievements and positive feedback trigger dopamine release, motivating employees to continue their efforts and fostering a sense of satisfaction and engagement.

When connections wane, trust decreases due to a disrupted neurochemical balance. Lower oxytocin levels can lead to weaker social bonds and less trust, while a lack of positive feedback can decrease dopamine levels, reducing motivation and productivity. This negative neurochemical shift can create a tense, restrictive atmosphere that significantly impacts an organisation’s culture.

So what, can organisations do to prevent this loss of connection and trust? The primary solution is to foster a culture of open, honest and transparent communication. This includes regular check-ins to make sure everyone feels heard, valued and appreciated. Feedback sessions provide a platform for employees to share their thoughts and for leaders to address concerns promptly.

Team-building activities also play a significant role in strengthening connections. By participating in collaborative activities, employees can forge stronger bonds and learn to appreciate each other’s strengths, weaknesses and unique contributions.

A less obvious, but potentially more powerful, solution lies in leaders educating their teams on neurochemistry. Understanding the positive impact of in-person connections on trust and how they can have a substantial effect on your experience of work and others.

Trust and connection in the workplace are not mere niceties but crucial components that contribute significantly to the overall success and health of an organisation. Leaders and teams that understand and prioritise these connections will foster an environment of trust, collaboration and innovation. By understanding neurochemistry, promoting open communication, and encouraging team-building activities, organisations can work towards strengthening these connections.

In the end, an organisation that understands these concepts will be better equipped to navigate the challenges of the modern workplace and create a thriving, productive environment.

If you’d like to get in touch with Gráinne, to benefit from sharing your wisdom and experience as you navigate your journey within Sandown Business School, you can contact her at [email protected]


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