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.