The recently published 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer has trust in the workplace as the main theme.

The figures show a lack of trust in government and media, in common with previous findings. However, fears about global changes have caused a reduction in trust in businesses. Of those surveyed:

  • 55% believe automation and other innovations will make their jobs obsolete
  • 57% believe that international conflicts about trade policies and tariffs will damage the companies they work for
  • 59% think they will lose their job because of a lack of skills or training

These figures were all higher for individuals working in multinational companies. There was also a divide, with people in the developed world more pessimistic that people in developing nations.

In parallel, people are consuming more news and sharing it via social networks than last year, demonstrating higher engagement (see graph). It may be that there is a correlation between the two, with people more informed about global issues.

The Edelman Trust Barometer 2019 shows an increase in news engagement.
The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer shows an increase in news engagement.

Communicators must develop messaging around these areas, so that employees are better informed and feel more secure.

CEOs should be driving change

Respondents said they expect the companies they work for to address these issues. Companies that don’t, risk creating an information vacuum, where rumour or misinformation can take root. They may also find that they lose their ability to influence issues.

Over three-quarters of those surveyed said it was a CEO’s role to talk about these topics and lead positive change regarding industry issues, political events and national crises. Crucially, CEOs were named the key influencer in areas of concern for employees relating to the workplace; equal pay, prejudice and discrimination, training, the environment, personal data, sexual harassment and fake news. These are topics that need to be addressed both at a societal and corporate level and the expectation is that companies do something about it.

The report suggested that CEOs can increase employee trust by discussing:

  • Societal Impact: The organisation’s contributions for the betterment of society
  • Values: The organisation’s values
  • The Future: The organisation’s vision for the future
  • Purpose: The organisation’s mission and purpose
  • Operations: Operational decisions, including decisions that may affect my job

It points to a clear leadership role for CEOs, focused on providing communication about corporate values, company direction and the impact it has on various stakeholders.

Companies with purpose

The theme of purpose runs through the report (more on purpose here). Employees wanted three things from their companies:

  • Job opportunities (80%): wage growth, career growth, work that is interesting and fulfilling
  • Personal empowerment (74%): they are part of the planning process, a voice in key decisions, company has a values-driven and inclusive culture
  • Shared action (67%): employer has a greater purpose and work has a meaningful societal impact

Companies that deliver the above build greater trust, which has huge benefits in terms of advocacy, loyalty, engagement and commitment (see graph below).

As trust goes up, companies benefit from greater advocacy, loyalty, engagement and commitment from staff (source: 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer)
As trust goes up, companies benefit from greater advocacy, loyalty, engagement and commitment from staff (source: 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer)

This is highly important in terms of a company’s reputation. It means that staff are not only delivering work in accordance with a company’s values, but that they are actually telling people about it. It also directly corresponds with sales, with 67% of people saying they would only buy from a company that they trust. One of their indicators of this trust was the way that employees are treated.

Employee voice

The report also shared the benefits of encouraging employees to speak up on issues that affect companies and their stakeholders. The most credible group named in the report was a company technical expert (see graph below); two percentage points above an academic expert. This was higher than regular employees, CEOs and board directors.

Employee voices are seen as more credible (source: 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer)
Employee voices are seen as more credible (source: 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer)

There are a number of ways you can communicate with staff, encourage them to play a more active role within the business and become positive representatives of the company. Some suggestions include:

  • Set a vision for the business: a simple vision that is easily explained can unite staff and help position the company externally
  • Have clear values: values must be understood, regularly referred to, influence every business decision and drive behaviour, both corporately and individually
  • Set out your commitments to staff: including development and growth, working culture, pay and benefits, inclusivity and diversity
  • Bring employees into conversations: engage with them, find out what they need and allow them to influence business decisions
  • Tell the world about your people: bring people into your marketing and communications. Why do they work for you? How do they make a difference? What makes them an expert? (My chapter in Platinum talks about how to develop thought leadership content with staff).

Doing this significantly benefits business performance due to the higher levels of engagement, and helps to differentiate companies from competitors. For example, in professional services organisations, the level of staff expertise and qualifications are broadly similar. Instead, individual track records, relationships and company culture become the distinguishing factors. Working with employees and helping them to tell their stories, should therefore be an important part of a communications strategy for these businesses.


Image by Jason Leung, via Unsplash

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