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Edelman’s annual Trust Barometer finds a discouraging distrust of governments and media — but more faith in business and, in particular, employers. People are asking business to play a larger role on climate change, economic inequality, workforce reskilling, and racial injustice.”
February 23, 2022
Future of Work

In a turbulent world marked by contested elections, “fake news,” and pessimism about the future, it is perhaps unsurprising that former blue-chip institutions such as governments and the news media fared poorly in the latest edition of a longstanding, widely respected report on trust.

Edelman’s annual Trust Barometer dates to 2000. This year, the research, which surveyed 36,000 consumers in 28 countries, highlights the disastrous state of trust. Edelman finds a world that has a hard time addressing challenges due to a cycle of distrust fueled by government and media, among others, with nearly half of respondents viewing those institutions as divisive forces (government at 48%, media at 46%).

People Trust Businesses To Lead The Way

For company leaders, the barometer holds good news — and with it, great responsibility. Business (trusted by 61%) edged out non-governmental organizations, or NGOs (59%), as the most trusted institution, with government and media farther behind. Moreover, a full 75% of workers trust their company, making the employer-employee relationship an important, and potentially powerful, one.

But this trust carries responsibility. More than ever, respondents want and expect business to lead the way on issues that matter to them. By a massive five-to-one margin, people are asking business to play a larger role on climate change, economic inequality, workforce reskilling, and racial injustice. Part of the reason is that faith in governments is so low; only 44% of respondents trust government to “coordinate cross-institutional efforts to solve societal problems” (business scores much higher at 55%), and only 42% say it can “successfully execute plans and get results” (business notches 65%).

And respondents are willing to hold companies’ feet to the fire; 58% said they will buy from or advocate for a brand based on their beliefs and values. About 60% will choose a place to work based on these factors, and 64% will invest based on their beliefs and values.

People Trust Their Companies

In important news for business leaders, respondents trust their own employer more than any other news source. Nearly two-thirds (65%) believe communications from their company, beating media reports with named sources (57%), major corporations (54%), and social media (38%), among others. This finding dovetails with a trend toward trusting those around you, such as colleagues and neighbors — while mistrusting others, including those from foreign countries or other provinces.

But if employers are to retain this trust, leaders must meet changing expectations. A full 81% of respondents say CEOs should be personally visible when discussing public policy and work their company has done that benefits society. Similarly, 60% say that when considering a job, “I expect the CEO to speak publicly about controversial social and political issues that I care about.”

Far from asking businesses to “stay in their lane,” people now want companies to engage more on social issues. Respondents overwhelmingly expresses this desire when asked about issues including climate change (43% more said business is not doing enough than said it is overstepping), healthcare access (34%), and systemic injustice (32%).

Finally, the positive news for leaders is that respondents view them as competent, effective drivers of change, on a par with NGOs and far ahead of government and media. In a world in which trust appears to be in tatters, it’s welcoming to see the people still have faith in businesses — and those who lead them.

10 Takeaways

Here are the Top 10 takeaways from Edelman’s 2022 Trust Barometer:

#1. Distrust is now the default.

Nearly 60% of respondents say their default tendency is to distrust something until they see evidence it is trustworthy. Another 64% say people are incapable of having constructive and civil debates about issues they disagree on.

#2. Business is deemed trustworthy.

At 61%, business is the most trusted institution, ahead of NGOs (59%), government (52%) and media (50%). More than 75% of respondents, however, trust their employer, making this relationship extremely important.

#3. Government and media fuel the cycle.

Nearly half of respondents view government and media as divisive forces in society. Furthermore, government leaders and journalists are seen as the least trusted societal leaders today, with fewer than half of respondents trusting either (government leaders at 42%, journalists at 46%).

#4. News sources have a trust problem.

No major information sources are truly trusted as sources of general news and information, with trust in search engines at 59%, followed by traditional media (57%), owned media (43%) and social media (37%).

#5. Fake news concerns are rampant.

Concern over fake news or false information being used as a weapon is now at an all-time high, cited by 76% of respondents.

#6. Trust in democracies has collapsed.

In many of the democracies studied, institutions are trusted by fewer than half of their citizens: 46% in Germany, 45% in Spain, 44% in the UK, and 43% in the U.S. Moreover, in not a single developed country do citizens believe their families will be better off in five years.

#7. Societal fears are on the rise.

Without faith that institutions will provide solutions or leadership, societal fears are becoming more acute. Most notably, 85% are worried about job loss and 75% about climate change.

#8. Business needs to step up.

While business heavily outscores government on competency and ethics, respondents believe business is not doing enough to address societal problems, including climate change (52%), economic inequality (49%), workforce reskilling (46%) and trustworthy information (42%).

#9. Societal leadership is now a core function of business.

When considering a job, 60% of employees want their CEO to speak out on issues they care about, and 80% of the general population want CEOs to be personally visible when discussing public policy with external stakeholders.

#10. Business must lead in breaking the cycle of distrust.

Across every issue, by a huge margin, people want more business engagement, not less. For example, on climate change, 52% say business is not doing enough, while only 9% say it is overstepping. Expectations for business have never been clearer.