Workplace Trust Leads to Employee Recruitment and Retention in the Age of COVID-19
Global public relations firm Edelman has been studying trust for more than 20 years, and Edelman’s Trust Barometer provides global insights on trust and credibility across four key societal institutions: government, media, business and NGOs.
Organizational TRUST TRENDS
The Edelman Trust Barometer is an annual study, and because so many issues came to the fore during the pandemic, the firm went out seeking supplemental data and included results from before, during and after the height of the pandemic in their 2021 report. Kirsty Graham, Chair Edelman Health, highlights a few striking findings:
1. Government was the most trusted institution, until it wasn’t.
“In May of 2020, what you saw was this incredible spike in trust in government,” Graham explains. That trust may be relative to the sheer scale of the challenge, in this case the pandemic, at which time people tend to put their trust in government. That level of trust coincides with very high expectations, which are difficult to meet. “Think of the global financial crisis,” Graham says. “We saw the same thing, this huge spike in trust for the government, which quite often is connected to a big drop in trust and confidence over time. And that is exactly what we saw with the pandemic.”
2. Business launched to the top of trusted institutions.
As Edelman surveyed people over the long course of the pandemic, for the first time in two decades of research the most trusted institution became business, the only institution seen by respondents as both competent and ethical. “What we saw in the course of the pandemic was the sense from respondents that business had actually performed well, it was seen as “competent” and “ethical”, and people were leaning into business.” A notable piece of the increased trust rating of business is the rise of trust specifically in “my employer as an institution,” affirming the observation that trust is local.
3. The trust gap became a chasm.
Edelman surveys people proportionately across two parts of the global population: the informed public (people who report regularly consuming business and public policy information and who tend to have higher income with higher education levels) and the mass population. Researchers found that the difference in trust levels between these two cohorts is wider than ever, with the informed public being significantly more trusting than the mass population by a difference of an unprecedented 16 percent.
4. We’re bankrupt and infected.
Edelman coined the phrase “information bankruptcy” to encapsulate the findings of plummeting trust across news sources complicated by an epidemic of misinformation around the pandemic directly affecting public health—an “infodemic,” that people are under-prepared to deal with. Respondents recognize information literacy as increasingly important, but only 26% surveyed practice good information hygiene defined as engaging with various news sources, avoiding echo chambers, verifying information and not forwarding or amplifying unverified information.
5. The feeling is mutual.
Another first in Edelman’s data is the sentiment of employers. Graham explains, “When we've asked in the past, what is the most important stakeholder group in determining business success, it was the customer. In our last survey for the first time the employee was the highest.”
The Influence of Business TRUST on TALENT Acquisition and Retention
During the COVID-19 pandemic employers took on massive new responsibilities. Workplaces had to adapt. Retail stores went digital; dining shifted to outdoor or delivery; as theaters and concert halls went dark, some performances went outside or online. Offices emptied and supply chains were disrupted. Many employers struggled to keep their people employed, safe and informed. Leaders became as responsible for the front line as they are for the bottom line. For those organizations and leaders who stepped up it was a seminal moment that would change the unwritten understanding between employees and their employer.
When people weren’t sure where to turn, Edelman’s research found that “communications from my employer” became the most trusted source of information. “When people didn't know where to go for trusted information on either the virus or the vaccine or a host of other issues, the one place they really trusted was information and communication from their employer.” Employees’ expectations of employers have changed.
1. The belief-driven employee.
As the urgency of the pandemic started to wane many people reflected on what was important to them. Edelman collected data on what the firm calls “the belief driven employee.” Findings include:
- 6 in 10 employees said that they would be looking to choose their employer on the basis of the company's values.
- 1 in 5 employees either had or were planning to leave their job.
- 76% of employees surveyed said they would be prepared to engage or take action to drive change in the companies they were working for.
2. Walk the talk.
No longer content for employers to stay in their lane, employees want to know their employers share their values and are willing to act accordingly. Edelman’s research found that 86% of respondents expect to see their employer lead on social issues. Graham says, “It’s a profound change, when you think of what the world has seen in the last 18, 24 months, this sense of, ‘I expect you to speak out.’” A recent AESC report, Adaptive Leaders, Culture and Strategy, reveals that of nearly 1,000 C-level executives surveyed, 78% believe that trust in leadership in their organizations has either been strengthened or unchanged during the pandemic. However, of executives who identify as being from an underrepresented demographic, 39% believe that trust in their leaders has declined, compared to only 21% of all executives. While overall, talent puts trust in their employers, there is room for improvement when it comes to inclusion, which has a direct impact on recruiting and retaining top talent.
3. Trust, recruiting and retention.
People want to know that where they're working fits with their values. They are looking for a purpose-driven organization that they feel attached to, emotionally. “In the current labor market these issues are the defining ones,” Graham says.
Why Company TRUST MATTERS
Employees are more likely to work for a company they trust and whose values they see embodying their own; consumers are more likely to purchase from and advocate for trusted companies; regulators tend to give trusted companies license to operate in a greater space. “We also see a correlation with performance and institutional investors and likelihood to invest in companies if they're trusted,” Graham says. “So trust is an unbelievably important currency and it's something that organizations earn in drops but can also lose in buckets.”
We cannot overstate the importance of trust. “We've done 21 years of research on trust,” Graham explains. “And what I thought was so interesting coming through the pandemic is that trust, now is everything. It is so fundamentally important. It's important at an institutional level and it's important at an individual level. And I think a lot of the things that hold a society together, that keep it civilized, actually hang on the sense of trust.”
Trust-building leaves clues, if we know where to look. Graham points to four key behaviors that may signal that a leader or an organization is earning trust:
- Consistency: There is an alignment between what is said and what is done.
- Candor: People don’t mind bad news—they don’t like surprises.
- Empathy: Leveling with people, telling them the facts, but with an empathetic approach.
- Constancy: Always, always be in touch.
There is a striking confluence of sentiment—employees have become organizations’ most important stakeholder and business, for now, is the most trusted. That trust can and must be safeguarded, Graham says. “Whether you're a President, a Prime Minister, a CEO, the head of a news organization - if you want to influence or change behavior you absolutely have to be trusted. And so thinking about how you establish trust, building that up and maintaining it is fundamental for any institution or person.”
“It's an unbelievably precious thing, to be trusted,” added Graham.
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