Peoples’ trust in our institutions is eroding. For example, the chart* above shows the trend of Americans’ trust in the mass media, as measured in a recent Gallup poll. It’s a pretty dismal showing, having fallen 20% in the last 20 years, and I’m sure the recent election didn’t help. Only 5% or respondents say they have a great deal of confidence in the media. The same thing is happening with our highest elected leaders. Congressional approval ratings haven’t been above 20% for the last 5 years. Ouch.
Along with government and media, the workplace is an institution traditionally looked at as a pillar of our society. Fortunately, things are looking better there, too. A survey known as the Edelman Trust Barometer rates trust levels of businesses around the world, with most developed countries getting a 60% or higher positive rating. The U.S. score rose from 60% to 70% in the last year for a nice gain.
Why does business score so much better than government or media? I think it’s because government tends to get very insular, providing benefits only to those who they think will get them elected next time around while disillusioning everyone else. And media publishes what will sell the most ads. The days of Walter Cronkite-type trust are behind us.
On the flip side, companies communicate information that will help employees improve and move the organization in a positive direction. Everyone’s interests are linked together.
So workplace communicators have a good trust base to work from, but of course it can always be better. One way to improve is to look at what employees see as trust building communications. The Edelman survey asked, “How important is each of the following attributes to building your trust in CEOs?” The top categories were:
Integrity – 51%
Engagement – 49%
Products – 45%
Purpose – 40%
Operations – 37%
It’s interesting to see that employees want integrity from their management team first, even over things like treating employees well and having high quality teams and products. You can’t go wrong leading with integrity, a lesson that government and mass media could learn from.
*Chart shows percent who say they have “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of trust in the mass media. Participants were asked: In general, how much trust and confidence do you have in the mass media – such as newspapers, TV and radio – when it comes to reporting the news fully, accurately and fairly? A great deal, a fair amount, not very much or none at all?