It has been a long, hard summer for institutions. Governments are reeling from scandal and electoral setbacks, notably in the UK (with an 18-point trust decline since May 2022). Business must justify more costly products and is facing a wave of union actions. Media and NGOs continue to underperform expectations. Our latest global study of employees — the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: Trust in the Workplace — finds that the sole bulwark of institutional strength is “My Employer” at 78 percent trust. The employer trust advantage over the four major institutions is a record 21 points — even higher in the UK (30 points), the U.S. (27 points), and Germany (24 points). Trust is truly local, in the communications employees receive from their co-workers, CEOs, and companies.
The workplace has become the island of civility.
The workplace has become the island of civility. More than half believe that their employers are doing well at keeping partisan politics out of the workplace, an improvement of four points globally since September 2021 and 10 points in the U.S. Employees are more comfortable debating societal issues with co-workers than neighbors, and they view the workplace as their most important community after friends and family. They trust their co-workers and direct managers to do what’s right (79% and 77% respectively), followed closely by "My CEO” and “My CHRO” (both 69%). The social and moral values of co-workers are very much in line with those of the study respondents (69%), a close second to family and friends (79%).
The workplace is now viewed as the crucible for solving societal problems. Seven in ten respondents told us they want their job to bring societal impact, and a rising number of employees are more likely to work for an employer who takes a stand on human rights (71%), racial justice (66%) and climate change (63%). In the highly polarized U.S., members of both Democratic and Republican parties say they are more likely to work for a company that takes public positions on issues ranging from economic inequality (72% vs. 56%) to racial justice (78% vs. 57%) and climate change (70% vs. 51%).
Employers can play a critical role in the restoration of trust in institutions — and in society overall. Here are four key steps they can take:
- Demonstrate trust in employees to earn their trust in return. Those employees who feel trusted by their CEO exhibit twice as much trust in their employer (92% vs. 46%). That trust is rewarded by greater loyalty, engagement, willingness to recommend, and commitment to excellence.
- Be the trustworthy source of information. Communications from “My Employer” are the most believable source of media (63%), nearly 10 points ahead of mainstream media (54%) and nearly double the believability of social media (36%).
- Leverage the localization of trust: Source credibility depends on the audience within the organization. The most trusted spokespeople for lower and middle-level personnel are co-workers and direct managers, while executives such as CEOs and the head of HR appeal most to senior management.
- Address areas where business is underperforming: Compensation, fear of job loss, and work-life balance. The wage issue is acute globally among employees who say a competitive wage and fair pay are strong expectations when considering a job; still, their employers’ performance falls short on these measures (28 and 21-point gaps, respectively). Seventy-three percent of respondents fear job loss due to areas like automation or trade conflicts. Two-thirds of respondents say they are not willing to sacrifice their mental health to achieve career advancement.
- Publicly air the values of the organization with employees. Employers must use their values to guide response to societal issues that are inevitably going to arise. They must also use these values to be transparent with employees, of whom 80 percent want to have input in company decision making.
There is a proverb from Confucius that is an appropriate guide for CEOs navigating the deeply complicated array of issues in the absence of competent government. The Master, when asked how to win a war, said, “Enough food, enough weapons and the confidence of the people.” His apprentice asks, “Suppose you had to do without one of these; which to give up first?” Confucius replies, “Weapons.” Then he was asked again, “What if you had to give up one of the remaining two?” Confucius said, “Food. All men must die but a state cannot survive without the confidence of its people.”
Richard Edelman is CEO.