Oxytocin (Trust & Social Bond Hormone) and how it relates to success in business.

Whether you are a Business Owner, Manager, Executive or hold a position of Leadership in your workplace.  At one point, you have wondered why you have a hard time building a bond with your team.  Why do they not trust you?  Why is there social tension?

The answer is Oxytocin or lack thereof.  Oxytocin has been recognized as a key in building a successful business.   It plays a role in social bondingsexual reproductionchildbirth, and the period after childbirth.

The bond between a mother and her child is a direct reflection of Oxytocin at work. Oxytocin is released into the bloodstream as a hormone in response to stretching of the cervix and uterus during labor and with stimulation of the nipples from breastfeeding.[5] This helps with birth, bonding with the baby, and milk production.  It is an overflow of Oxytocin being released.  The mother’s bond with her child is one tough cookie to crack!

How does that relate to business you ask?

Back in 2017 there was an article titled “The Neuroscience of trust” written by Paul J. Zak. at Harvard Business Review.  The topic was ORGANIZATIONAL CULTURE.

So it’s clear that creating an employee-centric culture can be good for business.  The question is, how do you do that effectively?  Some cultures in business have been designed around cook-outs, “karaoke fridays,” often in thrall to some psychological fad.  And despite the evidence that you can’t buy higher job satisfaction, organizations still use golden handcuffs to keep good employees in place.  While such efforts might boost workplace happiness in the short term, they fail to have any lasting effect on talent retention or performance.

Being an employee at such organization.  I have found that creating a culture of trust is what makes a huge impact on the success of a business.  Employees in high-trust organizations are more productive, they collaborate better with colleagues, they have never ending energy at work, and stay with their employers longer than people working at low-trust companies.  Which in turn leads to less chronic stress and your employees are happier with their lives, and these factors fuel stronger performance.

Leaders understand this principle.  In its 2016 global CEO survey, PwC reported that 55% of CEOs think that a lack of trust is a threat to their organization’s growth.  What is shocking is that most have done little to increase trust, mostly due to the fact that they don’t know where to start.  In this article, I provide a framework backed by science that will help you all.

About a year ago, before I started my very own business as a Freelance Photographer/Video Creator at Zeus Creative.  In an effort to truly understand why I had lost the passion at my place of employment prior to deciding to become a full-time creator.  I went back to when it all started.  I was fresh out of prison (which is a story for another day).  I excelled at my place of Employment.  Shattering monthly and yearly records for both vehicles sold as well as total gross.  I worked my ass off day in and day out.  I wanted to be the best the dealership had ever seen.  Shit, some days I even worked 16 hours and somehow I went home at the end of the day loving what I did for work.  It didn’t take long until I was promoted to Floor Manager at Larry H. Miller Lexus Lindon.  I was earning an average of $120K per year and I felt I had finally found my career.  I was happy, I felt appreciated and I was invested.

Unsure of what happened, I began looking back to the changes that had happened in the workplace.  I replayed the prior year over and over in my head.  Every new employee, every vehicle sold, every customer interaction, literally everything.  Finally, it hit me.  Our Store Manager Joseph Belmonte was what I would call “A fearless leader.”  Joe and I went way back, in fact, he was one of the first Sales Managers I had.

Joe wasn’t a Store Manager at all.  He was a leader.  Someone who I had put all of my trust into.  Trust that was earned through witnessing countless acts of him sacrificing himself for both myself as well as the team.  He made the necessary sacrifices to ensure that every one of his employees felt safe and appreciated in the workplace.  At one point, I watched Joe give up a very generous chunk of his own pay, just to keep our Finance Manager happy.  I always told Joe, “if you leave, i’m going with you.”  Which was an absolute fact.  I had never worked for someone who genuinely cared about my well-being more than Joe.  He wanted me to succeed, he wanted to see me happy.  He did his best to help me in every aspect of life.

It was then that I realized why my passion seemed to disappear into thin air.  We had undergone a management change.  Joe, was transferred to our 2nd store in Utah.  The second the words came out of his mouth, “I am transferring stores, hopefully I can get you transferred up there to work with me.”  My passion was gone.

What was happening in the brain to cause this

Experiments around the world have shown that humans are naturally inclined to trust others—but don’t always.  There had to be a neurologic signal that indicates when we should trust someone.  Paul J. Zak conducted a long-term research program to see if that was true.

I knew that in rodents a brain chemical called oxytocin had been shown to signal that another animal was safe to approach. I wondered if that was the case in humans, too. No one had looked into it, so I decided to investigate. To measure trust and its reciprocation (trustworthiness) objectively, my team used a strategic decision task developed by researchers in the lab of Vernon Smith, a Nobel laureate in economics. In our experiment, a participant chooses an amount of money to send to a stranger via computer, knowing that the money will triple in amount and understanding that the recipient may or may not share the spoils. Therein lies the conflict: The recipient can either keep all the cash or be trustworthy and share it with the sender.

To measure oxytocin levels during the exchange, my colleagues and I developed a protocol to draw blood from people’s arms before and immediately after they made decisions to trust others (if they were senders) or to be trustworthy (if they were receivers). Because we didn’t want to influence their behavior, we didn’t tell participants what the study was about, even though there was no way they could consciously control how much oxytocin they produced. We found that the more money people received (denoting greater trust on the part of senders), the more oxytocin their brains produced. And the amount of oxytocin recipients produced predicted how trustworthy—that is, how likely to share the money—they would be.

Since the brain generates messaging chemicals all the time, it was possible we had simply observed random changes in oxytocin. To prove that it causes trust, we safely administered doses of synthetic oxytocin into living human brains (through a nasal spray). Comparing participants who received a real dose with those who received a placebo, we found that giving people 24 IU of synthetic oxytocin more than doubled the amount of money they sent to a stranger. Using a variety of psychological tests, we showed that those receiving oxytocin remained cognitively intact. We also found that they did not take excessive risks in a gambling task, so the increase in trust was not due to neural disinhibition. Oxytocin appeared to do just one thing—reduce the fear of trusting a stranger.

My group then spent the next 10 years running additional experiments to identify the promoters and inhibitors of oxytocin. This research told us why trust varies across individuals and situations. For example, high stress is a potent oxytocin inhibitor. (Most people intuitively know this: When they are stressed out, they do not interact with others effectively.) We also discovered that oxytocin increases a person’s empathy, a useful trait for social creatures trying to work together. We were starting to develop insights that could be used to design high-trust cultures, but to confirm them, we had to get out of the lab.

So we obtained permission to run experiments at numerous field sites where we measured oxytocin and stress hormones and then assessed employees’ productivity and ability to innovate. This research even took me to the rain forest of Papua New Guinea, where I measured oxytocin in indigenous people to see if the relationship between oxytocin and trust is universal. (It is.) Drawing on all these findings, I created a survey instrument that quantifies trust within organizations by measuring its constituent factors (described in the next section). That survey has allowed me to study several thousand companies and develop a framework for managers.

It was, in fact, a neurological change in my Oxytocin hormone levels.  I felt betrayed by the dealership.  I knew that they would bring in some new hotshot and there wouldn’t be the same level of leadership.  There simply wouldn’t be the same foundation that Joe and I had built over a period of 5 years.  Not only did my passion to sell cars disappear.  My passion of working for anyone else slowly drifted away over the course of the next year and a half.

Finally, I realized that I simply didn’t want to work for anyone at all.  Which is why I decided to become a Full-Time Photographer and Video Creator.  Now, I use this lesson in my relationships with my clients.

Before dealing with a new client, I ask myself “Is this person someone I genuinely care about?”  Upon meeting with them I always make sure the client matches up with the values that I have as a creator.  Do I feel like they will do the following:

Recognize excellence?

Give me the discretion in how I do my work?

Enable job crafting?

Share information broadly?

Intentionally build a relationship?

I then decide if this is a client that I am willing to give the same in return.  If ALL answers are yes, I will then approach that client to discuss my ideas for them.  What they can do to increase sales, exposure, engagement and brand awareness.  This truly is a start of an amazing partnership.  This is a method that provides a neurological connection between my clients and I.  It all starts with the one thing that makes their business thrive.  Trust.

One thing that i’ve found—which doesn’t surprise me—is that high-trust companies pay more (by about 17%).

Compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies report: 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction with their lives, 40% less burnout.

I will continue to use this method for the entire duration of my career as a Photo/Video artist.  This method even works for everyday relationships.

It’s not about being easy on your employees, your marketing team, photographer, video artist, your creative director or expecting less from them. High-trust companies hold people accountable but without micromanaging them. They treat people like responsible adults.



Zeus Creative (Drew D. Holmes) is a published Freelance Photographer and Video Artist.  Working in the fields of Automotive, Commercial, Lifestyle, Real-Estate and Portraits.  Arguably one of the most recognized Automotive Photographers in the state of Utah.


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