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Islands of civility: A special Edelman report on trust in the workplace

What you'll learn on this podcast episode

As today’s societal issues continue to mount, employees are turning to the workplace as one of the safer spaces for debate and a primary source of community. In fact, data from a special edition of Edelman's 2022 Trust Barometer—specifically analyzing trust in the workplace—notes that 78% of employees trust their employer over other established institutions and connections. So, how can companies leverage trust and adapt their own practices to better address employee concerns? In this episode of the Principled Podcast, host Emily Miner explores key findings from the Trust in the Workplace report with David M. Bersoff, the Head of Research at the Edelman Trust Institute. Listen in as the two discuss what drives trust and how employers can strengthen trust in—and beyond—the workplace. 

Get a copy of the Edelman's Trust in the Workplace special report. 

Read our blog post on takeaways from this report. 

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Guest: Dr. David M. Bersoff, Ph.D.


Dr. David M. Bersoff

As the Head of Research for the Edelman Trust Institute, Dr. Bersoff is the lead researcher on all of Edelman's trust-oriented thought leadership, including the Edelman Trust Barometer. He also leads the Institute's research-based collaborations.

Prior to joining Edelman in 2016, David spent 18 years as a consumer insights and marketing strategy consultant at The Futures Company. In his last 5 years with the organization, he served as its Chief Insights Officer and was a member of its global board of directors. In that role, he ran the Global Insights Group and drove the research, data analysis, IP creation and product development strategy for all of their syndicated consumer insights offers – Yankelovich MONITOR, Multicultural MONITOR, Global MONITOR, Health and Wellness MONITOR, Financial Services MONITOR, and the TRU Youth MONITOR. 

In addition to his background in IP development and insights product management, David has also served as a trusted advisor and marketing/brand strategy consultant to major clients in industries as diverse as financial services, automotive, media, professional organizations, energy, and the military.

Prior to entering the consulting world, David spent 12 years engaged in social science research at various Ivy League institutions, including 4 years as an assistant professor of social psychology and research methodology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Host: Emily Miner


Emily Miner is a director in LRN’s Ethics & Compliance Advisory practice. She counsels executive leadership teams on how to actively shape and manage their ethical culture through deep quantitative and qualitative understanding and engagement. A skilled facilitator, Emily emphasizes co-creative, bottom-up, and data-driven approaches to foster ethical behavior and inform program strategy. Emily has led engagements with organizations in the healthcare, technology, manufacturing, energy, professional services, and education industries. Emily co-leads LRN’s ongoing flagship research on E&C program effectiveness and is a thought leader in the areas of organizational culture, leadership, and E&C program impact.

Prior to joining LRN, Emily applied her behavioral science expertise in the environmental sustainability sector, working with non-profits and several New England municipalities; facilitated earth science research in academia; and contributed to drafting and advancing international climate policy goals. Emily has a Master of Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy from Columbia University and graduated summa cum laude from the University of Florida with a degree in Anthropology.

Principled Podcast transcription

Intro:  Welcome to the Principled Podcast, brought to you by LRN. The Principled Podcast brings together the collective wisdom on ethics, business and compliance, transformative stories of leadership and inspiring workplace culture. Listen in to discover valuable strategies from our community of business leaders and workplace change-makers.

Emily Miner:   As today's societal issues continue to mount, employees are turning to the workplace as a safe space for debate and a primary source of community. In fact, data from a special edition of Edelman's 2022 Trust barometer, specifically analyzing trust in the workplace notes that 78% of employees trust their employer over other established institutions and connections. So how can companies leverage trust and adapt their own practices to better address employee concerns? Hi, and welcome to another episode of LRN's Principled podcast. I'm your host, Emily Miner, director of advisory services at LRN.

Today I'm joined by David M. Bersoff, the Head of Research at Edelman Trust Institute. I had the pleasure of hosting David on this podcast back in February following the release of Edelman's annual Trust Barometer. And this time around we're going to be talking about key findings from their special trust in the workplace report. It's a timely topic and we'll explore how employers can strengthen trust in the workplace and beyond. David is a real expert in this space, having spent the last two decades leading research, data analysis and insights initiatives for Edelman and the Futures Company's Global Insights Group. David, thanks for joining me again on the Principled podcast.

David M. Bersoff:    Hey, my pleasure to be here, Emily.

Emily Miner:   David, when you and I chatted a number of months ago, we were talking about Edelman's annual Trust Barometer report, which is a real marquee set of research that you've been conducting for I think over two decades now. Many of our listeners are probably familiar with that research but might not realize that additional reporting comes out of it. Can you give a short summary of what this special report is?

David M. Bersoff:    Yeah. As you said, Emily, usually people who are familiar with our trust work are familiar with the big study we put out in January around the time of Davos. But what we found is that we just can't dig into all the issues we want to dig into in the context of a single study. And so what we've done over the last few years is we've started doing additional or adjunct studies throughout the course of the year. For example, this year, since last we spoke, we've done a study on racial justice, on trust in the healthcare system, on trust in technology, climate change, the changing role of business and society, and the one we're going to spend most of the time talking about today, which is the employer-employee relationship.

And the reason why we wanted to look at that relationship really comes out of some of the findings we saw back earlier in the year, in particular we saw that the role of business in society is changing. In fact, 65% of people said that the role of business in society is changing. And that is really around this idea that people have increased expectations that companies actively engage in addressing social and political issues. And this is pushing that change. And within the context or the essence of that change, what we found is that a full 73% of people said that the primary responsibility of a corporation is to benefit all of its stakeholders to the fullest extent possible versus maximizing financial returns for their shareholders.

And when we asked, who are these stakeholders? Which stakeholders should be given the highest priority? Interestingly, owners and shareholders were the least likely to be seen as a high priority in business decision making. And instead we found that the number one constituency was customers, and number two, employees. And so given this changing role of the corporation, given a more stakeholder versus shareholder orientation that the general population seems to have towards businesses and expectations associated with that, that they have towards businesses and that employees are the number two stakeholder group, we've felt that we really needed to dig in and understand this relationship.

Emily Miner:   Okay, so let's do that. Let's dig into the employee relationship. What factors have you found in your research that makes this relationship so special? I guess short of the fact that it's where so many of us spend a majority perhaps of our waking hours.

 David M. Bersoff:    Absolutely. When we first started out looking at the employer-employee relationship, and we've done it off and on for the last few years, but we really did a deep dive this year. I was surprised at just how special and how important the employer-employee relationship is. And in this regard, there's five dimensions or five areas that I want to highlight in really convincing you and demonstrating the specialness of that relationship. And the first dimension is the nature of the relationship itself. The employer-employee relationship, it's a local relationship. In other words it's part of your daily life, your daily business. Sometimes it's local, actually geographically, you're right there, you go to it on a daily basis. It's also a personal relationship.

 It's a relationship where they know you and you know them. And because it's both local and personal, it tends to be trusting, as you pointed out in your introduction. In fact, it's a very trusting relationship. But it's not only a local personal and trusting relationship, it's leverageable relationship. Employees acting together in concert, applying pressure to their employer, can get their employer to change things they don't like. They can pressure their employer to engage on social issues or develop initiatives around societal problems that employees are worried about. But it doesn't even stop there. It's not only local, personal, trusting and leverageable, but it's a relationship with a far more powerful other.

Your employer, by and large, has more resources and access and power and influence to get things done than any individual. And so when you put all of these things together, it's a very unique relationship. Local, personal, trusting leverageable with a more powerful other. I would argue there's no other institutional relationship like that in people's lives, and that's why people are looking to work with and through their employer to have a positive impact on society. But that's only the first thing that makes it special. The second thing is that the trust that people have in their employer is incredibly stable, almost regardless of what else is going on. In fact, when we first started really measuring trust in your employer, that was January of 2018, we found that trust in your employer was 76% of people had trust in their employer.

Fast forward to September of 2022, that number is 78%. And in the intervening years we've seen maybe a fluctuation of plus or minus 1%. Think about all the things that have happened in society in the world between January of 2018 and September of 2022, and yet you'll find that trust in your employer is rock solid. That stands in contrast to trust in other societal institutions, which has shown a lot more volatility as things have happened in the world and as things have happened in this country. But not only is there a difference between stability and volatility, but when you look at the level of trust, as you pointed out, trust in your employer is about 78% globally, trust in all the other institutions averages at about 57%.

And in a country like the US, you're seeing a 27% or 27 point difference in the trust levels for my employer versus the trust levels I have in government and business in general, and media and NGOs.

Emily Miner:    I want to underline the point that you just made about the stability, because that is just so powerful and surprising truly for me personally, just thinking about everything that we've gone through over the past four, five years, and how those events have spilled over into the workplace. Of course COVID, social unrest regarding the last presidential election in the United States, a racial reckoning. Again, I'm speaking from the United States, but it's spread throughout the world. That's truly incredible that the levels of trust in one's employer have remained so stable as businesses have had to navigate these crises again and again along with all of the individuals that are navigating them on their individual basis.

David M. Bersoff:    Absolutely, I agree. The stability is remarkable. And not only the stability, but the transversal nature of the trust. Trust in your employer cuts across age and gender and income levels and race and even political orientation. Both Republicans and Democrats trust their employer. In some ways that's the essence or the crux of its specialness, that it can remain a trusted entity, a myth, all of the upheaval, all the volatility in society and is trusted by all corners of society. And that really is why personally I think the employer-employee relationship is going to be key. And we'll get into this hopefully later in our discussion, but it's going to be key to helping repair some of what's wrong in society, addressing some of the polarization issues, the distrust issues, the lack of faith issues, the inability to have civil discussion.

I think the employer-employee relationship can in many ways speak to all of those things. And part of the reason why I think the employer enjoys this trust and this space, is because it's also seen as a source of credible information, even, and particularly when it comes to contentious social issues. When we looked at the credibility of employer communications versus communications from the national government or in the media or corporations in general, we find that my employer's communications are considered the most trustworthy and the most credible. It really is a go-to source for the truth. And beyond that, also as you alluded to, is this idea that the workplace and your coworkers are an important source of community.

As a matter of fact, we've found that second only to family and friends, coworkers are a significant source of community. And this was found in the midst, not necessarily in the midst of the pandemic, but certainly was found in the midst of the movement towards more virtual work arrangements. And sometimes people ask, well, how can that be? Didn't the idea of community and closest among coworkers, didn't it suffer as a result of many workplaces going more virtual? And to that, I'd like to remind people that you can't just think in terms of in real life versus virtual, you have to remember that in interactions with your coworkers, you've got teamwork, you've got common goals, you have a shared future. We're all in this together and we're all going to fail or succeed as a team.

Those things are incredibly powerful and in some ways more powerful than a face-to-face interaction. So don't think about your online relationships versus your IRL relationship. Think about the teamwork and the team dynamics that really help engender that sense of community you have with your coworkers.

Emily Miner:   The past two years might also have helped organizations to do a better job at fostering that or maintaining that sense of community in a remote world, as so many of us had to do that. The team that I work in at LRN, we are a fully remote team and have been pre COVID because we're all, not a single one of us lives in the same state. It wasn't really a new thing for us, but it was for a lot of other teams at LRN. I think there was a lot of learning, I would say most of it really positive and constructive, that I think sets us up better now as we go into this, for our company, an office optional work environment, we've figured it out by now. We know how to make it work when people are virtual on your screen or IRL as you said.

David M. Bersoff:    Absolutely. I think we wouldn't even be in a situation where hybrid work situations are more acceptable and even becoming the norm if we hadn't figured out how to have a sense of community and team and shared values and goals despite more virtual interactions than in-person interactions. And then the fifth thing is this notion we talk about that the employer or your job situation is this island of sanity in a polarized and uncivilized world. In fact, we ask people, who would you be more comfortable having a conversation about a contentious issue with someone you disagreed with, would you rather have that discussion with a coworker or a neighbor? And across all the issues we asked about gender equality, gay rights, racism, reproductive rights, climate change, people said, I'd rather have those conversations, I'd be more comfortable having those conversations with my coworkers.

I think this is in large part because employers are actually doing okay at keeping partisan politics out of the workplace. As a matter of fact, in the US there's a 10 point increase in the percentage of people who say, my employer is doing well on keeping partisan politics out of the workplace. Also, places of employment tend to have zero tolerance for hate speech. They don't have any tolerance for threats. It keeps a lid on things. It forces a degree of stability. But more importantly than that, what we see is that in the work environment, you get to know people as whole people, whereas in the real world, your interactions with those you disagree with may not go any further beyond interacting around that issue that you disagree on. Whereas in the workplace you have other kinds of interactions around other kinds of things.

So you see that, yeah, we may disagree on climate, we may disagree on other policies, but I still see this person as smart and as funny and as caring and as morally driven as I am, even if it may be to a slightly different outcome. And this idea of being able to see and interact with whole people makes it easier to have disagreements about any specific issue, because you know them beyond their stand on this issue, you interact with them beyond the thing you disagree about. You put all those five things together and I hope you're really seeing how special this relationship is in general and in particular how special it is in important ways given the current context we're dealing with in society.

Emily Miner:   Given all of that, how should employers be using or thinking about this special status and their changing mandate in our society from a shareholder to stakeholder capitalism and some of the threads that you've already talked about, employee collectivism, expectation around social impact, et cetera, incredible source of truth. How can employers use this special status and why should they at all?

David M. Bersoff:    This special status in my mind is a hugely valuable resource that's right there. That specialness I think comes with an opportunity, and I would even go as far as to say perhaps even a moral responsibility for employers to use their special status, to use the status of this relationship to help rebuild trust in general, to combat fears, to combat misinformation, to enhance civility, and to start repairing the social fabric, which at a societal level our data shows has become frayed beyond its ability to serve as a foundation for shared values, common purpose and cooperation, which is why we have so much vitriol and paralysis and polarization in our society today. But I think the specialness of this relationship can be parlayed by employers to address these things.

In fact, our research has shown that trust in one's employer is actually a precursor to trust in institutions. And personally I don't think trust is ultimately going to be rebuilt from the top down. Government is not going to suddenly instill trust in itself. Media is not suddenly going to get people to trust it. Rather what's going to happen is that trust is going to be rebuilt from the bottom up via the actions of employers. And what we find in the data to back up this hypothesis or position of mine, is that there are people who trust their employer but don't trust government or media. But there are very few people who trust government and media who don't also trust their employer. The employer trust or entrust in your employer is the gateway to broader trust in societal institutions.

It's where trust outside your social circle starts, and it's from that point that it can expand outward. We also find that because employers are seen as a trustworthy source of information, even on contentious issues, they're in a unique position to get people to agree on a common set of facts. And in many ways, our inability to agree on a common set of facts prevents democracies from working. Democracies are about negotiating and cooperating and compromising around policy. It was never meant to be the adjudicator of facts. By definition, facts aren't something that should be voted on. Facts aren't something that should be associated with ideologies. Facts should be where we all start.

And the employer being a trusted source of information is in a key position to establish a common set of facts that we can then all work with to decide what the best way forward is for this country. I think also employers are in a special position to train or perhaps retrain people how to have civil and productive disagreements as well as to lead by example in terms of navigating civility and disagreement. The workplace, an organization, a company, a corporation can't survive with the level of animosity and paralysis and polarization around disagreements as exists in the government. The company, the corporation would collapse. Corporations have to work through disagreements, employees have to work through disagreements, otherwise nothing gets done.

And so there's a sense in which that muscle memory exists in the workplace. The question is, how do we export it? How do we scale it? Certainly I think that some reinforcement, some training around how to have civil and productive disagreements within the workplace would be well founded. But I would also suggest or hope that it wouldn't stop there. And as a matter of fact, when we look at young employees in particular, they actually voice an expectation that their employer not only be a source of trustworthy information for them and for their employees internally, but they want that information to be made available to the general public.

We've got 60% of 18 to 34 year olds who also say employers should train employees on how to have constructive debates about contentious issues inside and outside the workplace. There's this real sense in which people recognize the workplace as a special environment, the rules are different, it's more civil, it's more congenial, it's more trusting and more trustworthy. And so they want that, they seek that out, they will screen employers by those things, but at the same time, the new take on this is that they want some of that magic. They want to figure out how can we export that magic beyond the walls of my employer, beyond the walls of the corporation.

Emily Miner:   Earlier this week actually I was talking to one of our clients and they're a large 50,000 pharmaceutical research organization. They are building out a course, a campaign around thoughtful communication. That is the goal of what they're trying to do. It is something that we need to learn. In performance management, for example, we get trained on how to give feedback and how to also receive feedback. I think there's parallel there from feedback to dialogue on contentious issues. And we're just respectful communication in general. I want to also, you talked about how can we export this outside the walls. I would be remiss if I did not share an initiative that we're doing at LRN, that I'm really excited about. We're going to be making one of our courses on respectful communication free for the world.

We're headed into the holiday season and going to have all sorts of family members and friends around the dinner table. We're just a few days, you and I are recording this, just two days after the midterm election. So there's a lot to talk about. We're putting this course out for free in hopes that it can help in some way. I do have to say that in some ways this effort of ours was actually inspired by the conversation that you and I had back in February where I thought about, what is LRN's responsibility? How can we contribute to helping business repair together the fabric of society? Thank you, you did help to inspire this initiative.

David M. Bersoff:    That's just wonderful to hear. And this is the very kind of initiative that I'm talking about in terms of capturing some of the magic of the employer-employee relationship and exporting it and the kinds of responsibilities, the emerging responsibilities that corporations have. I see this as a little bit different than some of the stuff we talked about earlier in the year. That was more about a general expectation or responsibility for corporations to weigh in on social issues, to engage, not to just sit on the sidelines while things are going to hell in a hand basket. But what I wanted to talk about today and where this conversation is going and what that initiative is about is not so much weighing in on a particular issue, but a broader, more fundamental responsibility that I think business has to help repair society, to help move things in a more positive direction.

Not in the context of any single issue, but just the context of reknitting that social fabric of helping to define truth and develop a set of facts we can all agree to. The foundations and the fundamentals of getting anything done around a specific issue. And that's in my mind, the frontier of emerging new forms of corporate responsibility and expectations. It's not just about being responsive to issues, but it's about standing back, seeing the bigger picture, seeing these more fundamental problems we have and just not being able to get along, not being able to interact, the democracy, the wheels of democracy grinding to a halt because there's too much grit in the gears. Those things need to be addressed and in some ways they need to be addressed before we're going to really get some serious traction or progress on other things, on these specific issues.

Which actually brings me to the other side of this specialness. I think this specialness, as we've just been discussing, comes with a certain opportunity or responsibility for employers to help improve the quality of life and interaction in society. But it also comes with expectations among employees. I talked a little bit about this at the beginning. I talked a little bit about this last time I was here, this notion that people are looking to their employer as a means for having a positive impact on society. And seven and 10 are telling us that when they're looking for a job, they feel that it's either a strong expectation or a deal breaker. That within that job they'd be working for a business that reflects their values, a business that has and expresses a greater purpose, that allows them to do work that meaningfully changes or shapes society and that has a CEO that addresses controversial issues that they care about.

I just wanted to take this opportunity to do two builds on that. So what I just went through is older news, that has been around for a while, that thinking, those expectations, it's been something that CEOs and organizations have been wrestling with. But what we've seen in the intervening time is a couple of builds on that. One build is, I think since the last time we spoke we're seeing a lot more anti-woke rhetoric. This idea that woke corporations are irresponsible because they're taking their eye off the ball, they're not going to be as successful, in some ways they're skirting their economic responsibilities in order to engage in these social responsibilities.

And so one finding that was really surprising to me at least, is that even Republicans, so when we looked at this desire for an employer to weigh in publicly on social issues and we looked here at say, healthcare access and human rights, racial justice, economic equality, climate change, gender equality, when we looked at all of these issues, we saw an increase among Republicans in the desire to work for an organization where they do speak out and address those issues. And all of those issues garnered more than 50% support among Republicans, that their organizations speak out on these issues. Now in general the republican numbers were in the fifties while the democratic numbers were more in the 70s. There's still a gap between parties there.

But I'm reading this as saying that that anti-woke rhetoric, the headwinds against this emerging new role for corporations in society, the backlash against weighing in on social issues is a lot louder than it is big.

Emily Miner:   I wonder, because I saw that in this special report and was also really struck by it because I remember from the January trust barometer, I think it was maybe the first year where business was not trusted among Republicans, the traditional party of business. So to see that finding in this more recent special report stuck out to me, and maybe it has more to do with this idea of trust being local. It's my employer as opposed to potentially business as a broader institution in society. So in how I expect and how I want my employer to behave and what I'm looking to in my employer, maybe that has some mediating in influence.

David M. Bersoff:    My employer is more trusted than business in general. My CEO is more trusted than CEOs in general, and that's across the board. And you were right. One of the findings from earlier in the year that was quite surprising was not only that Republicans were less trusting of business than Democrats, Republicans being the party of business, but they actually distrusting of business. Now that's come back a little bit in our more recent numbers. Republicans are more trusting of business now than they were earlier in the year, but there's still less trusting of business than Democrats are, so we still have that surprising finding there. But it is moving back to, it was moving back in the direction that we might expect where Republican trust in business is growing.

But there is this, there's a lot of anti-woke rhetoric out there. And to your point, what's true of business in general is not necessarily true of your employer. That your employer does have this special status, it is local, it is personal, it is more trusting. And that's why the employer-employee relationship is more powerful, more special, more important to our future than even the fact that business is more trusted in government and therefore business has this responsibility to engage on social issues. That's an important dynamic, the employer- employee relationship and that specialist of that as an even more important dynamic within that and I think is the relationship that's got the potential to make the most difference going forward.

And also in that regard, another thing that I've heard over the course of the year around this idea of companies weighing in and multi-stakeholder and engagement on social issues, that was a luxury. That was a luxury of a time when the stock market was high, profits were good, businesses were doing well. And that once times get hard, that people are going to sell their values and aspirations down the river and they're going to be focusing on a paycheck. They're going to be caring more about job security than they are going to be caring about whether their CEO is speaking out on issues. And so we actually did an analysis, we looked at the job secure versus the job insecure. And the job insecure we defined as people who had some degree of worry that they were possibly going to be laid off by the end of this year.

And when we look at those two groups, our finding, which might be a little counterintuitive at first blush, is that the job insecure are actually more likely than the job secure to say that they want a job that gives them opportunities to address societal problems. They want to work for a company where the CEO speaks publicly about controversial issues they care about. Even the people with the lowest level of job security, the greatest level of potential threat to their financial and economic security, they're not exactly doubling down on this idea of social engagement and multi-stakeholderism, but they are higher than people who are not as worried about their financial security. I think it's because the assumption that a recession and job security would trump concern about societal and societal issues was a little misguided.

I think what we're seeing is that the people who are job insecure are seeing themselves in some ways as victims of inept government, governmental paralysis, polarization, failed economic policies. And so they're actually more interested in this not happening to them again. They're still seeing government as relatively ineffective and so yes, they actually want business to continue if not more so its engagement in these kinds of issues because they still see business as their best bet for getting change and stability in society.

Emily Miner:   I did think that that was such an interesting finding, and you're right that it does seem counterintuitive at first blush, but I think that your interpretation there is really clarifying and resonates with a lot of the firsthand accounts that we've read over the past two years from people who have participated in the great resignation or the great reshuffling or whatever term you want to use about why they left where they were and what the bar was for them as they considered their next place. I thought that that finding was really interesting. David, we've talked a lot about the mandate of businesses, the special relationship of employers to their employees and employees expectations around what that looks like.

I'd love to close by talking about some specific examples of how. So how can an employer build trust within their organization and as a way of scaling that trust outside of their, quote unquote, four walls?

David M. Bersoff:    Absolutely. And of course we studied business extensively and expectations for business and this isn't even our first rodeo when it comes to looking at what we call the employer-employee compact. There's lots and lots of different things that businesses need to be doing or could be doing to increase trust. I want to focus today on trust building initiatives, trust building strategies that are related to the issues we talked about. Knowing that I can't give you an exhaustive list of everything you can do to build trust. But how do you build trust in the context of some of the things we were talking about? First and foremost, interestingly, the key is not to focus on getting employees to trust you, rather the key is making employees feel like you trust them. Trust begets trust.

If employees feel that management doesn't trust them, actually almost nothing else you do matters. When we looked at our data, we looked among people who said that they feel their CEO trusts them. Among people, among employees who feel that their CEO trusts them, their trust scores for their employer is 92%, for their manager is 90%, for the CEO of the company, they work for 87%, even higher than average trust in your employer. When you look at people who said, I just don't think my CEO actually trusts me. Among those people trust in my employer is at 45%, trust in my CEO is at 27%, you're not going to be able to do anything to win your workers, your employees trust if at some level they don't feel that you trust them.

You don't want to get into some situation where your employees are feeling over scrutinized, they're feeling like you're constantly looking over your shoulder, that you don't respect them, that you don't trust them at a fundamental level. That's it. That's the death of any potential trusting relationship being built within your organization. That's the first thing you need to keep in mind.

Emily Miner:   And that idea, that extension of trust is, that's something that has stood the test of time over thousands of years. I think it was Aristotle who said that the one who extends trust first without needing trust to be proved is the one that is more right or has the moral authority. It's a tried and true philosophy that is still important in today's business world.

David M. Bersoff:    Absolutely. I hope people take it to heart, this idea that you don't want to be, quote, managing your employees. You don't want to develop a trust building strategy that exists above, apart or even worse, instead of doing the hard work of just making your employees feel like you trust and respect them. And then we did some driver analysis on trust in your employer and we looked at like 39, 40 things. Interestingly, and this finding is consistent and both surprising, the number one trust driver, the most powerful thing that a business can do, again in the context of the stuff we've been talking about today, is be a trustworthy source of information about contentious issues, that floated to the top. If you become that touchstone of truth, that is going to help me trust you more, that is going to make it more likely that I will trust you as an organization if I can rely on you to tell me what's true and what's not.

Another thing we found is, again, in the top five was if I understand and support the organization's greater purpose, that also makes me more likely to trust it. It's critical that organizations have, communicate and these days, most importantly, act on a greater purpose. And within this purpose initiative, you need to establish your organization as a values-driven organization with ideally a process for deciding when and how and which position to engage on in social issues. That's different than becoming political. There's a difference between being a values driven organization and a political organization. You want to be values driven, you want to be consistent in your values and how you apply them, you don't want to be political and certainly you want to avoid the trap of deciding your issue engagement on an ad hoc basis, like when you're forced to or when it comes up, because that's going to open you up to accusations of being political and or opportunistic. It's this idea of being values driven.

And certainly part of gaining trust is being seen as paying fair wages. That's not a surprise. What is surprise is that paying fair wages came in as the number three most powerful driver of trust.

Information was number one. Number two, in keeping what we were talking about today, comfortable voicing my opinion even when it's different from my boss. That's that trust, that's that respect, that's an environment where we can have differences of opinion, remain civil and respectful. That too was more important than paying fair wages as a driver or a differentiator of people who do and do not trust their employer. And then I guess finally what I would leave our listeners with, is this idea that you want to set boundaries and rules of engagement for discussions on contentious issues. You don't want to try to ban these discussions, you want to manage them.

In fact, you want to help people have them. Because this is where they're going to exercise or even relearn skills that are lacking in society at large, skills that can help us reintroduce civility within our wider social actions. It's this idea of don't try to tamp down uncomfortable discussions, don't try to keep them outside the office door, just make sure they don't get out of hand, that they don't become ad hominem or too political that you actually, as I said, try to manage them and coach people through them. Because ultimately what that will do is it will help turn your employees into ambassadors of civility. And if there's anything that this country needs right now it's ambassadors of civility,

Emily Miner:   We should send this research to the leaders at Basecamp and Coinbase, who have banned political discussions in the workplace. They might not be getting the result that they were hoping for with that decision.

David M. Bersoff:    Well, again, it's the easy way out. I'm not saying you shouldn't do that, but it's the easy way out. They're not using the specialness of the employer-employer relationship, they're not using that status that they have to make things better, to move things in a positive direction, to help people learn how to engage in those difficult discussions. They're abdicating their responsibility, kicking the can down the road. I can understand why you might want to do that, but I don't think it's in the best long term interest of either the organization or the country as a whole.

Emily Miner:   Well, David, that seems like a really great place to wrap up our conversation. Thank you so much for coming on the Principled podcast again and helping us unpack trust in the workplace and what it means for us individually as employees, as employers, and also for our broader society. I appreciate you joining.

David M. Bersoff:    My pleasure.

Emily Miner:   My name is Emily Miner and I want to thank you all for listening to the Principled Podcast by LRN.

Outro:      We hope you enjoyed this episode. The Principled podcast is brought to you by LRN. At LRN, our mission is to inspire principled performance and global organizations by helping them foster winning ethical cultures rooted in sustainable values. Please visit us at lrn.com to learn more. And if you enjoyed this episode, subscribe to our podcast on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, or wherever you listen. And don't forget to leave us a review.

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