The Battle for Truth, first revealed by Edelman Trust Barometer research in 2018, has intensified with the exponential rise of disinformation. Latest Trust data finds us in the midst of an “infodemic”—a point at which institutions must essentially declare information bankruptcy and find a way to rebuild from this nadir of trust. In a seemingly post-truth world, who is best positioned to lead this rebuild? The employer.

As trust in government leaders, media and even religious leaders has flagged, both employees and the general population are much more likely to trust that which is local and closest to them. In the current environment where most institutions and all types of media—search, social, traditional, owned—are mistrusted, “My Employer” has emerged as that closest, most reliable source of information in a fractured world. Employers not only have a new mandate to speak up on critical issues both inside and outside their organizations, but they must also go beyond to become a media source of trusted information to a wide range of stakeholders, starting with employees who participate as potential advocates and channels. This is a historic opportunity for employers to be restorers of trust by consistently providing quality information on critical topics (think vaccines) for the broadest set of stakeholders they’ve yet embraced: the world writ large.

While the imperative to be a media source is daunting, it’s only one new expectation now facing the employer. Whilst helming massive transformation to power through the curve of Covid-19, employers must also be the stewards of ethics in our society: creating truly inclusive and equitable workplaces, retraining the workforce when automation threatens job extinction and breathing new life into the economy by creating healthy return-to-work environments that include appropriate vaccination advocacy. And lest he or she forget, as a recent New York Times article declared, every employer should Consider Caring A Bit.

In light of these expectations from the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer, here are four key considerations for the employer:

  1. Pick up your metaphorical megaphone: Become an employer media source to reach all stakeholders with consistently reliable information. And embrace the technology that will enable you to do that with efficiency and reach—not to mention the metrics and data you will get as a reward on the back end. Covid-19 has accelerated all your other transformation plans; you should finally get your communications technology house in order.
  2. Lead with purpose: People trust business to do what is right and to be the only institution that is both competent and ethical. Build on this reputation by re-examining your organizational purpose and employee value proposition -- even the most evolved organizations find their pre-2020 purpose intentions and EVPs outdated after the consequences of the past year. Doing so will allow you to activate your well-intentioned but stagnant DE&I strategy, reassess pay equity of all sorts and make commitments to each of the three components of ESG. Regarding the latter, consider what sustainable employment really means—retraining and upskilling loyal employees instead of making them redundant. A wise business move considering the recent McKinsey study that proved “skill-building, rather than redundancy and hiring, is the most effective way to close skill gaps.” Bonus: doing so will also help avoid the specter of disruptive employee activism.
  3. Acknowledge the “A” word: Speaking of activism, Trust data indicates power is no longer simply top-down. Bottom-up employee sentiment and participatory action is the new way of working and critical to the ability to effect change. Continuous tracking of the critical issues that matter most to employees will allow you to enable a participatory workforce. Take advantage of the new ways of gaining insight into—and even predicting—employee ideas and concerns. These insights will inform your communications, your policies and even your products and services. Most important, they can help you close the trust gaps between employees and management that give rise to activism; at the same time, they help create avenues for employee advocacy.
  4. Exercise your empathy muscle: According to a compelling paper on board excellence, effective employers are moving from being captains to stewards, showing more vulnerability and empathy and making decisions in accordance with both. At this critical juncture, employers must be the living embodiments of values. It is now as important “to be” as “to do.” Because empathy is central to an employer’s new responsibilities—truly embracing stakeholder capitalism, creating inclusive workplaces, leading through pandemic challenges and anticipating customer/patient needs in order to innovate—this is the moment, advises Jamil Zaki, Stanford University professor and author of The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World, to develop your empathy muscle.

Cydney Roach is Global Chair, Employee Experience at Edelman