2021 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals businesses are the most trusted institution

The largest annual study of trust, with 21 years of reporting behind it, Edelman has released its latest Trust Barometer.

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Of the four institutions studied, business came out on top as the most trusted institution, which is a great result for internal communications. 

However, it does cast a dark shadow across the three other institutions: The Government, the Media and NGO’s. In a turbulent year, 2020 brought inequality, systemic racism and the prevalence of fake news to the forefront – all of these issues playing havoc with the levels of trust in society.  

If we can’t trust The Government to do the right thing, then who can we trust? Our employers. It seems that where the mass media has failed, employer media has succeeded. Respondents of the survey reported that the Media don’t try hard enough to distinguish between opinion and fact, meaning that the spread of misinformation is rife, especially amongst a pandemic.  

At a time where people are looking for reassurance, guidance and hope, they have been met with scaremongering, confusion and fear. Richard Edelman, CEO of Edelman, said in response to the findings: “We are living in a trust paradoxSince we began measuring trust 20 years ago, economic growth has fostered rising trust. This continues in Asia and the Middle East but not in developed markets, where national income inequality is now the more important factor. Fears are stifling hope, and long-held assumptions about hard work leading to upward mobility are now invalid. 

Business is ranked 61% trustworthy, compared to 57% for NGO’s, 53% for Government and 51% for Media. 

This year’s report reveals that the biggest opportunity to earn business trust is guarding information quality. 53% of respondents believe corporations need to fill the information void when the news media is absent. Communications from ‘my employer’ is the most trusted source of information (61%), beating national government (58%), traditional media (57%), and social media (39%

 Sowhat does this mean for internal comms?  

It means that employees’ trust in their employers is increasing. Not only that, but they are going to their employers for information more now than ever before. They are more likely to trust your weekly mailer or intranet announcement than a BBC article or press conference by Boris Johnson.  

The Barometer has also shed a positive light on organisational change and the importance of a strong CEO: “CEOs are expected to lead from the front. Ninety-two percent of employees say CEOs should speak out on issues of the day, including retraining, the ethical use of technology and income inequality. Three-quarters of the general population believe CEOs should take the lead on change instead of waiting for government to impose it. 

There’s an opportunity to use this insight as a way to measure trust in your own organisation, by conducting a survey or through an informal chat, depending on the size of your team. With two in three people feeling that technological change is too fast, there’s a lot to be said for ensuring that internal communicators receive the right training and support in using new tools and software. 

This touches on some feedback in the report that 83% of employees globally have wide-ranging concerns, including redundancy due to automation, a possible recession and lack of training.  

Communicating effectively during this time will only build on trust in business, and who better to do it? Expertise in internal communications comes from understanding the questions your employees have and knowing how to answer them in an engaging way.  

Of course, the pandemic featured in the report, but we’ve all heard a bit too much about that! So, we’ll keep it simple. The pandemic is splitting opinion on working from home vs working in the office, with 52% choosing to work from home and 48% choosing to return to the office. Although this has been exaggerated since Covid arrived, there has been an ongoing debate about which is best, ultimately coming down to personal preference.  

The details of this continue the theme of trust, with the majority of people citing Covid-19 risk as the main reason for choosing to work from home, followed by higher productivity and work-life balance. On the other side of the coin, employees were most happy to return to the office because their employer made them feel safe, followed by the same answers of higher productivity and work-life balance.  

An important message to come out of these results is that employees should be given a choice when it comes to ways of working. Whether that’s working remotely full-time, in the office full-time or a combination of the two in a hybrid working arrangement.  

Enforcing any of these options without asking your employees what they want to do would be a missed opportunity. It’s time to communicate, adapt and collaborate in the most forward-thinking way possible.  

To download a copy of the full 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer and find out more, click here. 


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