The Edelman Trust Barometer and Why Communication Matters

This shouldn’t be a news flash, but the precious commodity of trust continues to be in short supply throughout society.

That lack of confidence in institutions like government and media has been an issue for years now.

So, when the much-anticipated 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer was released recently, there was a glimmer of good news when it determined that there was a slight rise in trust in traditional institutions after a record plunge the previous year. But there still was widespread pessimism about what, and whom, people can believe.

There was a clear ray of sunshine in one particular area, though. Employers now have emerged as the most trusted institution.

  • 75 percent of people trust “My Employer” compared to just 48 percent for government and 47 percent for the media
  • 67 percent of employees expect employers to join them in taking action on issues in society – ranking nearly as high in importance as personal empowerment (74 percent) and job opportunity (80 percent)
  • 76 percent believe CEOs should speak up and lead change

“People have low confidence that societal institutions will help them navigate a turbulent world, so they are turning to a critical relationship: their employer,” wrote Chief Executive Officer Richard Edelman in the report’s summary.

The Trust Barometer is a rare industry report that has earned mainstream credibility. Edelman, the global communication firm, has spent nearly two decades conducting an independent, longitudinal study on something that really is the glue of society. Trust holds us together. We trust our vote will be counted. Our financial system is so reliant on it that the word trust can be found on our currency.

That’s why, for me, the most enlightening part of this year’s report is not where we lack trust, but where it’s actually growing. Consider one of the conclusions: When trust “cements the employee-employer partnership,” the workforce is far more likely to be committed, engaged, loyal, and willing to advocate for the organization.

This is the definition of an activated employee.

These are the workers who proactively go above-and-beyond on the job. They’re eager to share the company story. Their enthusiasm is palpable and infectious with customers. That all flows the level of trust they have in leadership and the company’s mission.

“When you’re in a situation where you’re worried, or you’ve lost faith in the system, or you have a desire for change but have no way to make it come about, that employer-employee relationship is the island in the storm,” David Bersoff, Edelman’s Senior Vice President and Head of Global Thought Leadership Research, told PRWeek. “That is the one relationship that’s trusting and personal and local where they think they can have an effect and it’s a relationship with an entity where they can get something done.”

Employees, in turn, will be more willing to run through walls for their companies. But while employees may be predisposed to trust their employer, it isn’t something that just happens automatically. It needs to be cultivated. If not, it can be quickly squandered.

And the rock-solid foundation for maintaining that trust is communication.

Businesses can only earn trust by what they do and what they say. In large organizations, most people can’t see what leaders do. They can only listen to those leaders and then decide for themselves if the organization’s actions are consistent with those words. That’s why communication between businesses and employees must be:

  • Honest
  • Authentic
  • Transparent
  • Targeted
  • Continuous

Employees have higher expectations today. They want to be led. They want to know where their leaders stand. They also want to know what their individual impact is on achieving the company’s purpose and goals. In today’s tight job market, if they don’t like what they hear, they move on. Employees have options.

Every employer needs to be up to that challenge. It’s terrific that more businesses are recognizing the need to have real, open conversations with their employees. The best leaders I know understand that communication is a pillar for building trust. But it requires a strategy.

The report is a reminder that businesses have a golden opportunity to connect and engage with their people in ways that can both leave them inspired and drive organizations forward.

That’s a nice silver lining in the still gloomy trust cloud.

Post Author

Joelle Kaufman

As CRO of Dynamic Signal, I bring over 20 years of executive level business development, strategy, marketing, product management, sales and communications experience. I've led teams in media, enterprise technology, and consumer internet companies. Throughout my career, I have built strong, self-directed teams and leveraged extensive analytics to ensure that marketing and partnerships are delivering clear value to the company.