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business leadershipPeople trust their employers more than government officials or the media, new research reveals. That means business leaders can and should assume the reigns of leadership.

Globally, 75 percent of people trust “my employer” to do what is right, significantly more than non-government organizations (57 percent), business (56 percent) and media (47 percent), according to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer.

The statistical discrepancy between “my employer” (75%) and “business” (56%) is quite startling. Also quite shocking is that non-government organizations (57%) – that is non-profits – are statistically the same as “business.”  One would think that the public would have much greater trust in not-for-profit organizations whose mission is to improve health, welfare and education. Going forward, all types of organizations must create policies and make decisions that are more clearly aimed at improving society in order to earn greater public trust. Decisions can no longer be aimed solely at narrow constituencies such as stockholders or the financial community. Making more trustworthy and more socially-responsible decisions starts with the CEO.

Over three fourths (76%) of the respondents from the survey say CEOs should take the lead on change rather than waiting for government to impose it, up 11 percentage points from last year. In addition, 71 percent of employees believe it’s critically important for their CEO to respond to challenging times.

Business Leaders Must Fill the Trust Vacuum

“In the face of heightened expectations on CEOs to step into the trust vacuum left by government, pressure is on them to do more — and quickly — to invoke a sense of certainty, reassurance and confidence with employees as well as the general public,” argues Stephen Kehoe, Edelman global chair, reputation.

Only a few CEOs have answered the call, he says, citing Unilever CEO Paul Polman’s push to organize the business response to climate change and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s support for DREAMers. Overall, CEOs are not stepping up to the challenge.

“This is a miss,” Kehoe says. “Not only from a perspective of trust overall, but in terms of the business benefits that accrue to employers who are regarded as treating their employees well in an age of fragmentation and inequality.”

The rewards of meeting these expectations and building trust are substantial, according to the Edelman research. Employees who trust their employer are far more likely to engage in beneficial actions on their behalf. They are more likely to advocate for the organization and remain far more loyal and committed than skeptical counterparts.

Recommendations for Leadership

The research report recommends these actions for business leaders as they attempt to take a lead on social issues and rebuild trust.

Keep in mind that employee trust in employers does not translate into trust of CEOs. While most trust their employers, trust in “my CEO” (54 percent) and CEOs in general (47 percent) is noticeably lower.

Understand that pessimism and a desire for change is pervasive. Only one in five of those polled feels the system is working for them, nearly half believe the system is failing them, and most people in the developed world do not believe they will be better off in five years.

Communicate with employees and prospective employees with candor, honesty and transparency.

Lead change at the local level by solving problems in the communities where the organization operates.

Enlist employees to have a voice regarding relevant issues and empowering them to use it.

Show commitment to issues inside and outside the organization through philanthropy or workplace training.

Bottom Line: Because employees trust their employers more than politicians or media outlets, business leaders have a responsibility to address social issues. Corporate communications professionals can play a leading role in advocating and promoting their organization’s contribution to society.