Edelman has recently released its 2019 Trust Barometer, the firm’s annual trust and credibility survey, and it makes for very interesting reading. The report outlines what most of us already know in terms of the continuing decline of trust in public institutions over the past 20 years – a result of global political and economic uncertainty.

But we’re most interested in the concept of trust at work, where the barometer shows a clear new world order. ‘My Employer’ is now the most trusted relationship, with 75% of the general population trusting their employer to do the right thing. This compares to just 57% for NGOs, 56% for business, 48% for government and 47% for the media.

These findings confirm exactly what our own research with clients has told us for years now: trust is a vital driver of engagement, productivity and performance in the workplace.

But what are the implications for organisations of this shift in the balance of trust?

Firstly, they need to create a clear vision – be it economical, social, or both – with which employees can become wholly engaged. It’s critical that employees can align their behaviours and activities with the corporate goal if they are to perform at their best. This is a proven point of success: our data suggests that firms with a clear vision have employees who are 3 to 4 times more engaged than those without.

Secondly, they need to actively build trust with their people. The best way to achieve this is by giving them a voice within the business, listening to their suggestions and ideas and acting on them (or explaining why they’re not being acted on). Again, the results are proven: our data shows that firms who actively listen to their people are 7 to 8 times more likely to hold on to their best talent, and 5 to 6 times more likely to improve customer service levels.

Finally, they need to ensure leadership is creating trust at every level, from CEOs to executive committees, functional heads, managers and team leaders. In our own benchmark data, trust is in senior leaders sits at around 50%. While this rises to around 70% for line managers, it’s clear that a cavernous trust gap exists across many organisations.

For many organisations, implementing these changes requires a fundamental culture shift. So where do they begin?

The Trust Barometer shows that 76% of the general population believes it’s CEOs who should take the lead on change – rather than waiting for external forces to impose it. In fact, CEOs are considered a critical agent for change both within and outside their organisations. With employees, they need to drive positive change in terms of approaches to attracting and retaining talent, and to employment practices at every stage of the employee lifecycle.

In the outside world, they need to be seen to have a considered, proactive view on critical social issues – for example the #MeToo movement, political extremism, climate change etc. And more than this, they need to show the way in countering economic or corporate pessimism by managing expectations on the trends in the labour market, demonstrating how employees can find the right career path and greater financial opportunities in the face of perceived uncertainty.

Some forward-thinking organisations will have already started making cultural change a priority in the face of continuing political and economic uncertainty. Others will need more persuasion about why they should spend the time, effort and resource on getting long-term culture right.

That persuasion is most likely to come in the form of bottom-line statistics. As Edelman’s Barometer shows, trust has tangible impacts on both behavioural and economic outcomes for organisations.

Those in the general population who trust their employer are 39 points more likely to be advocates for that firm, 38 points higher on loyalty, 33 points higher on engagement and 31 points higher on commitment. More compelling still is that high trust companies outperform their sector average by around 5% in terms of stock market performance.

Our own experience backs this up. Over the past 25 years, our client work has shown a clear relationship between trust and success: in firms where leadership is trusted, engagement levels, productivity, talent retention, customer service levels and financial performance are all significantly stronger. In just one example, a FTSE 100 firm saw that higher engagement contributed £80m of additional top-line revenue.

If the Trust Barometer’s findings don’t persuade organisations that building trust builds success, perhaps the real-life experience of businesses that are flourishing despite today’s market circumstances will?

By Dr Andy Brown
CEO & ENGAGE Leadership Practice Head