Edelman Trust Barometer: Business leaders and trust in the workplace

Trust has become an increasingly rare thing throughout society. Many employees, as a result, have turned to their workplaces as a safe space for debate and connection. In fact, now, more than ever, people rely on the workplace as a source of community. Data from a special edition of Edelman's 2022 Trust Barometer, Trust in the Workplace, shows that employers have become an essential point of trust and stability—even in the midst of social upheaval and economic difficulties—for many employees.

These findings align closely with LRN's own research. According to the LRN Benchmark of Ethical Culture, employees in organizations with healthy ethical cultures are 1.8x more likely to report their concerns to their immediate manager—a strong indicator of trust, as employees have faith that their concerns will be fully heard, considered, and properly managed. Edelman's report, Trust in the Workplace, also serves to highlight a new employer mandate: employers must leverage the powerful force of employees to restore societal trust from the inside out, moving it from the workplace to the marketplace. 

Trust in the workplace is high among employees  

Edelman's 2022 Trust Barometer, released earlier this year, revealed the unsettling finding that distrust is becoming the societal default: 59% of respondents note that they tend to distrust information until they see proof that it is trustworthy. This statement was echoed in the majority of the 24 countries surveyed, making it a global problem. 

An LRN article synthesizing the data noted that this vicious cycle of distrust was largely fueled by government and media. The government and the media continue to feed the cycle of distrust by spreading disinformation, sparking division, and fueling controversy. As a result, many people don't know what to believe. 

  • Nearly 1 out of 2 respondents view government (48%) and media (46%) as a source of division in society.  
  • On the other hand, almost as many respondents (45%) believe that business acts as a unifying force.  

According to the Trust in the Workplace report, a sizable majority of employees (78%) say they trust their employer.  The employer trust advantage over the four major institutions is a record 21 points—even higher in the UK (30 points), the US (27 points), and Germany (24 points).   

Employees view trust in the workplace as a civil, localized experience  

Notably, the report points out that trust in the workplace is highly localized: 79% of employees say they trust their co-workers ahead of their manager (77%), head of HR (69%), and their CEO (69%). The workplace has also become an important environment for connection to many employees. According to the report, 69% of employees say their coworkers are an important source of community. 

The report draws the compelling conclusion that "the workplace has become an island of civility." Employees feel comfortable debating social issues with their co-workers. In fact, may feel more comfortable having those debates with coworkers than they are having them with neighbors and other social connections. This may be in part due to the rules of polite conversation and civility that govern most workplaces: employees know that their coworkers must keep their language and behavior in check in the workplace even when discussing potential controversial issues, which means that they may be able to have more civil conversations even with those from different backgrounds and belief systems. 

With heightened trust, employees believe the workplace can solve societal problems 

Many employees are turning to their employers to express their social opinions—and the things that are most important to them may determine where they prefer to work. For example: 

  • 7 out of 10 respondents in the Edelman report noted that they want to see their jobs bring societal impact.  
  • Employees also want to work for employers who take a stand on the issues that matter most to them, such as human rights (71%), racial justice (66%) and climate change (63%).  

This expectation is also present among people who are currently out of work or looking for work

  • When asked to identify what factors they prioritize when considering a job, 66% of respondents look for the CEO's public efforts to speak out on controversial issues.  
  • 72% note that they highly value jobs that allow them to address bigger-picture societal issues. 

Even in the highly polarized US, it's obvious that many employees are focused on the social benefits their employers can bring to the table. Despite disputes in many political areas, 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%).  Today's employees have strong expectations of their employers, and if the employer does not measure up, employees will pursue employment elsewhere.  

How business leaders can improve trust in the workplace and beyond 

Employers can play a crucial role in the restoration of trust in institutions and in society overall. In an interview with LRN, David M. Bersoff, Head of Global Thought Leadership Research at Edelman Data and Intelligence, shared advice for business leaders to rise to the increasing expectations without further adding to the trust deficit. 

The special report also outlined five key steps that business leaders can take. 

1) Demonstrate a high level of trust in employees 

Trust in the workplace flows from both sides. Employees who feel trusted by their CEO exhibit twice as much trust in their employer (92% vs. 46%). Employees who trust their employers are more willing to work hard, including putting in extra hours or putting forth extra effort. They are also more likely to speak out in trust of their employer.  

2) Provide trustworthy information 

Edelman's report found that communications from "My Employer" are the most believable source of media (63%). This falls nearly 10 points ahead of mainstream media (54%) and nearly double the believability of social media (36%). As an employer, it's crucial to provide employees with up-to-date, accurate information to the best of your ability. Changing the flow of that information—or failing to deliver that trustworthy information employees expect—can weaken trust. 

3) Leverage the localization of trust  

Lower and middle-level employees tend to feel that their own management teams are more trustworthy than HR and CEOs. For senior management on the other hand, hearing from members of the C-suite can substantially enhance credibility. That means, in part, that information must flow steadily from the top down, with executives providing management members with the data employees need.  

4) Regularly address employee expectations in key areas 

Where is your business failing to meet employee expectations? Compensation, fear of job loss, and work-life balance are some of the top concerns cited by employees around the world. The issue of fair wages remains serious for employees across organizations. Unfortunately, there remains a strong gap between competitive wage and fair expectations and reality (28 and 21-point gaps, respectively).

Nearly three-quarters of respondents (73%) fear job loss because of trade conflicts, the potential for automation, and other problems beyond their control. Employers who help manage employee expectations and ensure that they are providing their employees with a high level of stability, however, can substantially increase overall employee trust. 

5) Talk about your organizational values 

Most organizations clearly lay out their core values in their code of conduct, communications, and employee training. But if they don't use their values to guide their response to societal issues that inevitably arise, their efforts may fall short. They must also use these values to be transparent with employees, of whom 80% want to have input in company decision-making. It's important, first, to make sure that employees understand the values of the organization when they join, and to provide them with ongoing information about company efforts to live those values.   

The key takeaway 

Are you looking for more information about how your organization can help build trust in the workplace? Download a copy of the LRN Benchmark of Ethical Culture to learn more about how business leaders can improve trust, employee loyalty, and organizational culture in their workplaces.