AB Thinks  →  21st February 2019

How to make the most of the rise in trust at work

The most trusted institutions in the world are now employers, according to the latest Edelman Trust Barometer. This offers business communicators a vital opportunity to set a new agenda, says Katie Macaulay.

At this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, CEO Richard Edelman presented the conclusions of the 2019 Trust Barometer, which surveys 33,000 respondents across 27 countries.

Edelman announced a “profound shift in trust”.

Trust now resides in relationships within our control, most notably our employer. Globally, 75% of people trust their employer to do what is right, significantly more than NGOs (57%), business (56%) and media (47%).

What is the implication of this sea change in trust for employers and us, their communication practitioners?

It is time for business to step into the void

With a paralysed parliament and concerns over fake news and misrepresentation, people are looking to business leaders to step forward. Here in the UK, we are increasingly seeing corporates taking a stand on societal issues.

Iceland has become the first major retailer to announce the elimination of plastic packaging for all its own brand products within five years. The fashion label Jigsaw has spoken publicly in favour of immigration declaring: “British style is not 100% British… without immigration, we’d be selling potato sacks.” Perhaps one of the most moving initiatives was a collaboration between the Campaign Against Living Miserably and the shaving brand Harry’s. A collection of 84 life-size statues appeared on the edge of a London skyscraper representing the 84 men who take their own lives every week in the UK. The campaign was the catalyst for the Government’s decision to appoint a suicide prevention minister and launch the Global Ministerial Mental Health Summit.

There has been a flurry of surveys that support this Edelman finding. The British public want and expect businesses to step up to the plate. A recent CBI survey that found 9 out of 10 of us believe businesses should take a stance on issues such as immigration, climate change and gender equality. In fact, 72% of the British public are prepared to champion companies who weigh in on important issues.

This places CEOs in the hot seat. The Trust Barometer finds four in five of us believe CEOs should drive change instead of waiting for government to impose it – a significant 19-point jump on last year’s survey.

If your organisation has traditionally sat on the fence in a bid not to offend, now might be the time to climb down. Leaders and communicators need to ask themselves some searching questions. What do we believe in and why? With that agreed, they need to articulate and champion these beliefs.

Use your technical experts

In the UK, the top sources of trusted information are now academic and company technical experts, with 63% of Britons citing each as trusted.

With suspicion over fake news and misrepresentation in the mass media, perhaps it is no surprise that employees are looking inside their own organisations for credible, reliable information.

Again, this represents a huge opportunity for communicators. We have the insight, data and technical specialists. Our internal audience is poised, ready and willing to take what we say seriously. What is more, we own our own channels. There can be no excuse for not arming employees with first-rate content about the issues that matter.

Communicate from the inside out

This year’s Edelman survey asked the question: “Beyond making a profit, what are a business’s other obligations?” In the UK, 65% said ‘treating employees well’ against 47% who said ‘treating customers well’.

The vast majority of us (76%) believe how a company treats its employees is one of the best indicators of its level of trustworthiness. And anyone who thinks ‘trustworthiness’ is merely a nice-to-have characteristic should think again. Being trustworthy is revenue generating – 60% agree “a good reputation may get me to try a product, but unless I come to trust the company behind the product, I will soon stop buying it.”

What once was purely a matter of internal policy – the way we hired, rewarded and developed our people – is now a driver of consumer loyalty. The conclusion seems obvious, if an organisation wants sustainable business growth it must demonstrate how it meets its internal obligations.

This is an argument for an ‘inside out’ approach to communication. Show customers why your employees are proud to wear the shirt and they will be less likely to switch to a competitor. A simple but effective example comes from our client Royal Mail with its long-running #MyRoyalMailRound campaign on Twitter.

My advice to all communicators is start working on external campaigns featuring the authentic voices of your employees because, now more than ever, external success rests heavily on the quality of your internal story.

Contact Katie.Macaulay@abcomm.co.uk to learn more about how AB can help you develop an ‘inside out’ approach to your communications.