• Employees have high levels of trust in their employer. With that trust comes high expectations, too.
  • Deskless workers are less trusting than desk workers, and their trust levels fall when they don’t feel trusted by corporate leadership.
  • As employees want to reset the role of work in their lives, business leaders must reconsider the workplace.


Employees are putting even more reliance on their employers as the linchpin of societal change, just as politicians are seeking to reverse what they see as excessive involvement by business in societal issues. Meanwhile, employees are pushing for change from the inside. These tensions pull at the tightrope that CEOs must walk on issues ranging from diversity, equity, and inclusion to sustainability and geopolitics.

The 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: Trust at Work finds a stunning 23-point trust gap for My Employer over the Trust Index, an average of the four main institutions among employees, up five points in the past two years. You will recall from our January Trust Barometer that Business is the only institution seen as both competent and ethical among the general population. When comparing our most recent employee data to January, we see that My Employer ranks as 26 points more ethical than Business (+47 versus +21) and ten points more competent (+22 versus +12) from the January Trust findings. The gap between My Employer and Government is even more shocking at 62 points in competence and 56 in ethics. The most believable form of communication remains information from My Employer at 61 percent ahead of mainstream media at 53 percent and national government at 56 percent, with social media trailing badly at 37 percent.

This trust gap for My Employer leads to higher expectations to demonstrate commitment to societal issues, with an average of 71 percent of employees saying that societal impact is a deal breaker when considering a job, only twelve points behind career advancement potential. For example, an employee is 14.5 times more likely to work for a company that publicly supports human rights, 8 times more likely if supporting racial justice, and 8 times if committed to climate change. Nearly three quarters of employees say they want to do work that shapes the future of our society in a meaningful way.

The roles of both work and the workplace need to be reconsidered, with the goal of tangible progress.

Trust in My Employer is high enough to prompt a change in employee behavior in pushing for change. Two thirds of employees are now prepared to work with My Employer, in the form of contacting their manager or HR lead or directly reaching out to or petitioning senior management, with one third still preferring to take grievances to the public. Gen Z is still nearly evenly split on tactics, but all other age cohorts show more willingness to work from the inside to make changes in the organization. In fact, half of the employed respondents now believe that with strong pressure, they can get the company to change almost anything about itself, up 5 points from last year. And nearly half of Gen Z and Millennials are posting their own content about My Employer on a weekly or more frequent basis. Employees want to see systems built that enable their input to flow upward, like establishing formal processes for manager advocacy or convening a stakeholder council.

There is an employee group that feels left out of this era of good feelings: the deskless worker. It’s not a matter of socioeconomic status as much as work style. Deskless workers can’t work remotely and don’t work from an office, whether they're brewing coffee, delivering packages, flying planes, or performing surgery. There is a profound trust gap for institutions between deskless workers and both desk workers and executives. For example, Business has 80 percent trust among Executives, 69 percent among desk workers and 54 percent among deskless workers. For Government there is 68 percent trust among Executives, 58 percent for desk workers and 40 percent among deskless workers. Executives believe their employers are doing a great job in reducing climate impact of operations (68 percent while deskless workers are at 41 percent on diversity and inclusion, deskless workers see much less progress than Executives (49 percent versus 67 percent). Under half of deskless workers see My Employer as doing well in navigating social issues in ways that do not alienate its employees (4 percent in sharp contrast to positive views of the Executives (70 percent). The deskless worker conundrum shows how much trust is reciprocal: When they feel executive management trusts them, deskless workers trust their corporate leadership.

For the CEO trying to decide whether to speak out on controversial issues, the first thing to know is the unanimity in acting on issues in a tangible way. Companies need to address issues based on core values and distinctive competencies. As discussed, employees are more likely to work for a company that publicly supports and demonstrates a commitment to human rights, healthcare access, climate change, racial justice and union formation. There are mixed signals from employees in developing and developed markets we measure when it comes to speaking out — especially the U.S. In India, China, and Brazil, nearly three quarters of respondents (up 5 points in a year) said that they expect CEOs to speak publicly about controversial issues I care about. This is in sharp contrast to the U.S., which had a 10-point decline to 51 percent bringing America more in line with Germany, the U.K., and Japan. Within the U.S., when we asked employees to think about a would-be employer, less than 50 percent of Republicans and independents wanted a hypothetical CEO to speak out on issues, while over 60 percent of Democrats did. Notably, we find agreement across Democrats, independents, and Republicans on wanting to see company action on values and diversity.

It's clear that the roles of both work and the workplace need to be reconsidered, with the goal of tangible progress. My Employer is the crucible where people feel safe to talk about the issues of the day, debate, and push for change from within. There’s a sense of control that comes with being able to decide if this or that employer is right for you. Savvy leaders will deploy processes to elevate employee voices and bolster connections between stakeholder groups. This is especially applicable to the deskless worker, whose influence is best felt when the CEO gets out from behind the desk, experiences their day-to-day work firsthand, and listens and incorporates their views into decision-making. My Employer has an unprecedented position in the trust equation; CEOs must remember that only action earns trust.

Richard Edelman is CEO.

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