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27 January 2020
Edelman’s Trust Barometer 2020: is ethics on your radar?

Edelman’s Trust Barometer has been running for 20 years, with over 34,000 respondents across 28 markets it’s a trusted source and snapshot into trust in business, government, NGOs and media. Many of us working in communications have the annual launch date of this report marked in our diaries because we use these findings to inform the work we do.

How and why?

With over 2M respondents, 145 companies and 80,000 employee reviews the report has summarised that trust matters to:

  • Consumers and Resilience against risk – Trusted companies have stronger consumer buyers and advocates
  • Employees and The Market – Trust drives workplace recommendations
  • Regulators, Investors and Media coverage – Trusted companies have greater license to operate

Communications links to all those listed above. Yes, actions may speak louder than words, but we are not just words people. Often the work we do informs and improves behaviours and actions through coaching and leadership training, etc.

Who is ethical and competent? No one?

According to the scale, no institution (business, government, NGOs and media) are seen as both competent and ethical. Only business is seen as competent and NGO’s seen as ethical. When asked ‘this institution is good at what it does’ government scored the worst at -40 and the worst again at -19 when asked ‘this institution is purpose-driven, honest, has vision, is fair’. Perhaps not surprising but it is disconcerting given these institutions are meant to serve us.

Perhaps these institutions aren’t really that unethical and incompetent? It is likely that poor communications is partly to blame but that can’t excuse it all. Why don’t we hear more about the good stuff? There must be some? If you remember that for every one piece of bad news, we need to hear three to balance the view, it’s no wonder these results are as bad as they are.

Did you know that ethical drivers are 3x more important to company trust than competence? This means if you haven’t got projects in place to address sustainability, inequality and diversity you should. It also means that if you do have them in place but are not talking about them – why not? Get to it!

From a prospective employer, 73% expect the opportunity to shape the future of society and 73% expect to be included in planning. With this in mind ask, how are you able to gather their feedback and actively listen to their input? What channels do you have in place to encourage the employee voice? By not being open to and allowing those conversations to flourish you are not addressing the expectations of the majority of your prospective employees. This is the very start of your employee lifecycle and you are likely losing out on attracting great talent.

Can we overcome scepticism through action?

79% think business has a duty to retrain employees affected by automation or innovation but 70% don’t trust they will. Consider that alongside the 83% who are fearful of losing their jobs to automation/freelance economy. Can you imagine the negative effect that is having on engagement and productivity? Would you be fully engaged if you believed you were likely to be replaced by a computer with no opportunity to re-train or change direction? I wouldn’t be.

Making the effort to know more about your industry, as well as understanding the feelings of your employees, will allow you to tailor your communication for maximum impact.

Technology, no longer the golden child

The Technology sector was previously the most trusted but no longer with 9 of 28 countries showing a decrease. 61% worry the pace of change is too fast and 66% worry technology will make it impossible to know if what they’re seeing, and hearing is real. We’ve heard a lot in recent years about “fake news” and now the data is supporting that. There is also a real concern that governments aren’t able to regulate emerging technologies effectively because they don’t understand them – only 39% voted favourably.

When it comes to the quality of information there is high distrust in the media – negative trends were seen globally across search which included: traditional, owned and social channels. 57% think the media they use is contaminated with untrustworthy information and 76% worry about false information being used as a weapon. Just recently we saw Facebook block the use of a technology that would manipulate targets, users would have no idea that they were being influenced by fake accounts and with 2.45 billion members worldwide we cannot calculate the kind of impact that would have.

Who are the credible sources?

Who were rated most favourably as credible sources? Company technical experts, a person like you, regular employees and CEO’s. How can you apply that in your organisation? Give those in vocal and visible positions the content and skills to deliver and ensure everyone else has access to the most up to date information, as well as the chance to feedback and be heard.

92% want their CEO’s to speak out on the issues of the day such as training for jobs of the future and the impact of automation on jobs. 74% want their CEO’s to take the lead on change rather than wait for the government to impose it (this is +9 points since 2018). That may be unrealistic, businesses may be more agile than government but there are certain changes that they have to wait for. Instead, we could concentrate on the initial point around speaking out.

Think of your CEO. Are they a competent and willing speaker? Would they comfortably cover topics such as these in your organisation? Communications professionals need to be aware of these views to better support their CEO, help them develop an active comms plan and arm them with the skills necessary to deliver it.

As a communicator I’d now be planning:

  • A review of channels ensuring there are upward channels for employee voice
  • A summary of all projects that sit under the ‘ethics’ label i.e. D&I, Sustainability, community work – and ensure stories around these activities are actively shared regularly across the business
  • To meet with the CEO – are they aware of this report and how it relates to them?
  • A platform audit to ensure all technology platforms are used with integrity

Nicola McLaughlin
Client Partner

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