Why Does Two-Way Affective Trust Matter in Work Life?

31.10.2022 Outi Kähäri

In work life, interpersonal trust is often based on roles and how well and effectively employees manage to handle the tasks they are supposed to handle in their work roles. However, also at work, people tend to (dis)trust individuals based on ethnic categorizations and stereotypes. This is a prominent problem related to racism. Discrimination due to racial, ethnic and other minority related reasons is a major hindrance for building good interpersonal trust relationships in work life.

Discrimination creates experiences of injustice, and race and other ethnic minority positions are often the most essential determinant of (dis)trust. Within the literature, ethnoracial differences in generalized trust, for example, are explained by roles of historical and contemporary discrimination, ethnoracial socialization, and neighborhood context (Smith 2010).

In the Mobile futures project, I will take a closer look at the relation between discrimination and (dis)trust among young Finns belonging to the so-called ‘second generation’ living at the crossroads of cultures. This second generation is an integral part of the Finnish society. They do not face the same kind of requirements to ‘integrate’ to the Finnish society as their parents. However, many of the young Finns belonging to a visible racial or ethnic minority face the same prejudices as their parents, which may have an impact on their experiences of trust in the society on multiple levels.

Building Affective Trust is an Anti-racist Act

In sociology, trust is typically defined as a central element of social exchange. Trust can be understood as a psychological state of mind where an individual has positive expectations and beliefs of the behaviour of the other. In contrast, distrust is related to negative expectations and beliefs of the behaviour of the other. These negative expectations are often based on lack of practicing trust, or trust-abuse and previous repeated disappointments of the acts of a certain individual or group.

In my PhD study on trust in interpersonal relations, the factors that caused distrust in ethnically diverse work communities were: 1) self-centred, unconcerned actions, 2) lack of reciprocal support and solidarity, 3) lack of respect, 4) insulting verbal comments or ways of acting, and 5) perceptions or experiences of inequality. All these factors caused affective distrust that indicated the experiences of injustice. The phenomena are all closely intertwined to the experiences of discrimination and racism.

Many aspects of affective distrust are closely related to indirect discrimination often understood as disrespectful and unfriendly behaviour. However, in interpersonal relationships, indirect discrimination is a problem that is difficult to solve. For an employee belonging to a minority, it may be impossible to prove that the unfriendly behaviour of a colleague is indirect discrimination. However, those who experience unjust behaviour are often sure that they have been discriminated against.

Anti-racism is active and conscious action against all forms of racism and discrimination. Anti-racist action aims to reduce racial and ethnic discrimination. I argue that by paying more attention to social aspects of work and affective trust, racist and discriminatory attitudes and practices can be mitigated.

In practice, affective trust as an emotional bond can be recreated by caring, reciprocal assistance and social support. Moreover, showing respect is one way to strengthen affective trust in interpersonal relationships. (Kähäri 2017.) These are acts based on empathy and consideration of colleagues who are in a different position of power due to their minority background.

Caring and reciprocal assistance may sometimes mean letting go of individualistic ways of doing tasks, and working more collaboratively. Social support indicates that you openly stand or fight as an active anti-racist ally for the colleague who has been treated in a racist manner. Also, giving more positive feedback, and saying it out loud to colleagues, may strengthen emotional bonds at work.  Arranging social events, such as sport events and parties together with colleagues, may be a significant act of increasing affective trust.

The ‘acts of affective trust’ can to some extent function as anti-racist practices, strengthening the feelings of reciprocity, solidarity and care which make individuals feel safe. Moreover, the experiences of safe spaces have a positive impact on the employees’ well-being and productivity at work.


Kähäri, O. (2017). Luottamus venäläistaustaisten ja kantasuomalaisten työelämän suhteissa. [Trust between Russians and Finns in Employment Relations in Finland]. Turun yliopisto: Turku. Available at: https://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-951-29-6996-8 Accessed the 19th of October 2022.

Laakso, P. (2022). Rasismista antirasismiin – Vieraana Mixed Finns ry:n Alice Jääskeläinen ja Priska Niemi-Sampan. Työelämän rajamailla -podcast. STTK. Available at: https://open.spotify.com/episode/1JzbnrghsoHeKJGsDeZtsN?si=283712c2bf2947b2 Accessed the 10th of October.

Smith, S. S. (2010). “Race and Trust.” Annual Review of Sociology 36, 453–75.

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