After 19 years of focusing predominantly on government, media, NGOs and business in general, this year the Edelman Trust Barometer highlights “my employer” as a critical relationship in this time of widening trust gaps and continuing lack of faith in the system.
So why them and why now?
Employees’ relationship with their employers is unique, in ways that are especially important as other social institutions continue to fail to meet their responsibilities. This uniqueness is not defined by any one dimension, but by a combination of the following five characteristics:
- It is a personal relationship: You know your employer and they know you. There is no namelessness or facelessness here.
- It is a local relationship: You interact with your employer daily. It is a constant presence in your life.
- It is a trusting relationship: For the most part, people trust their employer to do what is right to a significantly greater extent than they do the other institutions we measure.
- You have leverage: Especially in full-employment economies, organizations have to compete for the best and brightest workers. Thus, via collective action, employees have the power to get their employers to change policies and get involved in issues.
- Employers have power and resources: They have exponentially more power to get things done than most individuals. This is not just a close relationship, it is a relationship with a rich and powerful other.
These specifics of the employer-employee relationship put it in a position to supply employees with what they are currently seeking most ardently – trustworthy information and the opportunity to make a difference.
The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals that people are getting more actively engaged in creating change at the same time they are experiencing continued frustration with most social institutions. In looking around, the one relationship they have that is trusting, that they can control and with an entity that has the power to overcome the current barriers to change is with their employer. As a result, employees are looking at this relationship in a new light with new and greater expectations. In particular, they are looking to their employers to fill the gaps left by a dysfunctional media and government. Hence, employers have been thrust into the central position they now occupy.
While secure employment with opportunities for growth have always been the foundation of employee expectations, now 58 percent of employees are looking to their employers to help them navigate the information ecosystem (previously the role of media). This is especially true when it comes to issues about which the amount of available information is massive, there are seemingly many credible voices on both sides, and the information pool has been polluted with misinformation and fake authorities that are often difficult to tell apart from more reliable sources.
In addition, employees are also looking to their employers to be their partners in positive change. With many governments mired in deadlock and infighting, things are not getting done, problems are not being addressed, and people see extremism hijacking social agendas and clawing back hard-won gains. In this context, people are seeing their employers as their last, best hope for allowing them to take some control of the changes they want to see. As a result, 67 percent of them have added being an instrument of positive societal change to their employer’s remit.
Restoring people’s faith in the system and its institutions is one of the greatest moral imperatives of our time. This faith will be rebuilt one step at a time starting within the trusting context of the employer-employee relationship and moving outward from there. It is the collective action of thousands of employers that is currently our best hope for restoring positive stability in markets suffering from excesses of partisanship, distrust, and misinformation.
David M. Bersoff, Ph.D. is senior vice president, Head of Global Thought Leadership, New York.