An image from the Edelman 2021 Trust Barometer.

Edelman has released its annual Trust Barometer and while this year’s report is fairly gloomy, as you can tell from its title, “Declaring Information Bankruptcy.” It is also, I will admit, chock full of surprises. Here are our top 11:

1. Business is now the only institution seen as both competent and ethical

A chart from the delman 2021 Trust barometer.

I have to admit, as a child of the ’60s and ’70s, this is not a statistic I ever thought I’d see. Media still scores the lowest trust scores, but, surprisingly, as an institution it went up, while NGOs declined by a point.

The notion that business is seen as most competent and government is seen as the least competent is totally understandable. But the idea that business is seen as more ethical than media or government, despite all the horror stories of the last year, is a something of a surprise. At least NGO’s are seen as most ethical.

2. “My Employer” is considered most trustworthy

This is surprising for two reasons. One, given the layoffs, a lot of people no longer had a relationship with “My Employer.” Secondly, in my mind, 2020 was a year of employers behaving badly—think meat packing plants and Amazon. But the vast majority of employers apparently treated employees well enough to bolster their trust.

3. Climate change is the second most feared problem

When asked what they feared and what are they concerned about, respondents, unsurprisingly, ranked job loss first. We were pleasantly surprised by the fact that climate change ranked second. No doubt because this was a global survey, not confined to the U.S. Another surprise, and an indicator of where we are as a society, is that hackers and cyber-attacks were feared more than contracting COVID.

4. People trust scientists more than religious leaders

In some of the most surprising data, when asked what leaders they trusted, 73% said scientists while only 42% said religious leaders. Only 41% trusted government leaders. In fact, journalists and CEOs were more trusted than government or religious leaders. Higher up on the trust scale were “people in my local community” and “my employer/CEO.”

5. Government leaders are perceived as slightly more likely to lie than CEOs

Again, my ’60s upbringing isn’t surprised by the low marks given to both groups. But he fact that fewer people think business leaders (56%) are likely to lie to them than government leaders (57%) would have been even more of a surprise, had we here in the States not just had an administration found to have lied 30,573 times during its four years in office. In contrast, 59% say they trust academic and technical experts.

6. There is no such thing as a trusted source of information

Trust in all sources of information has dropped precipitously since 2019. Search engines and traditional media dropped the most, the latter caused presumably by the non-stop onslaught of criticism by political leaders. The decline in trust in search engines may have been driven by greater use of search as we shop more from home. Respectively they were trusted by 62% and 61% of respondents at the beginning of 2020, but by the first quarter of 2021 that trust had fallen to 56% and 53%.

Fewer than half of respondents said they believe ads or social media. Consistently in the cellar is social media, which is only trusted by 35%. Bad news for you social media managers out there. Your owned media is only trusted by 41%, a drop of 8 points since 2019. News organizations as a whole are seen as biased by 61% of respondents.

7. Internal communications is a rare bright spot for trust

Communications from “my employer” are the most trusted source of information.

8. Employees aren’t going anywhere: WFH is here to stay

52% of employees prefer to work from home. Most do so because of the risk of COVID, but some because they are more productive and like the work-life balance. Only 48% would choose to return to the office—but only when their employer makes them feel safe.

9. Good news for CSR managers: Business is expected to make up for government failures

86% expect CEOs to publicly speak out about societal challenges, specifically, the pandemic and job automation. 68% of respondents think that CEOs should step in when governments fail to solve societal problems, and 66% think CEOs should take the lead. More significantly, 65% think that CEOs should be accountable to the public not just their boards or shareholders.

10. Business can build trust by guarding information quality

When asked what would increase trust, the number one response was guarding information quality, second was embracing sustainable practices. Who knew?

Other things that could improve your relationships with employees? Not surprisingly, keeping workers and customers safe, and implementing job skill training programs. In another plus for internal comms, regular employee communications are seen as more important than ever. Sadly, diversity is at the bottom of the list (but remember it’s a global sample).

11. Watch out: consumers and employees are coming for you

68% of consumers and 62% of employees believe they have the power to force corporations to change. Half said they have become more likely to engage in workplace protest or voice objections to management.

Data from the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer.

Unions are you listening? ∞

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