edelman trust barometer

Australians stand out as distrustful in a pessimistic world, and now look to company CEOs to take the lead in society rather than government, media or business.

Globally, people now trust their employers more than they do traditional authority figures of government and business, according to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer. In Australia, the local trust index of 48 sits below the global average of 52.

Overall trust in Australia is on the rise, up eight points from 2018, when it hit a five-year low. But at the same time, more than half of Australians (54 per cent) believe the system is failing them. And two thirds (66 per cent) think their family will be worse off in five years.

“We’ve got a scared employee base,” says Edelman Australia CEO Steve Spurr. “They are worried about themselves and they are also concerned about what the companies they work for do and how they do good in the world. There’s an interesting balance between ‘what I need’ and ‘what I want my company to do’.”

Employees want companies to use their resources for good, says Spurr. For millennials, those now aged mostly in their 30s, this view has risen repeatedly in various surveys.

The number one issue Australians are looking to their leaders for is equal pay, followed by reducing prejudice and discrimination, and eliminating sexual harassment.

The Edelman research, which has been conducted annually since 2001, is based on an online survey of more than 33,000 people in 27 countries, conducted between October and November 2018. It examines trust in four institutional groups: government, media, business and NGOs, and divides respondents into an informed public category and a general population category.

Australia’s trust in government is still in negative territory despite increasing seven points in the last year, to 42 points.

Likewise, Australia’s trust in media increased nine points in the last year to 40 points, but this wasn’t enough to lift it into trusted territory.

Australia’s trust in business increased seven points, to 52 points, and is now in neutral territory along with NGOs at 56 points.

Employers are emerging as leaders with 79 per cent of Australians saying CEOs should take the lead on change rather than waiting for government, up 14 percentage points from last year.

At 79 per cent, Australians’ expectation of CEOs to take a lead on social issues is above the global average of 76 per cent.

Half (54 per cent) of employees look to their employer to be a trustworthy source of information about social issues and other important topics on which there is no general agreement.

Most (72 per cent) believe a company can take action to increase profits while also improving community economic and social conditions.

“My employer” is Australia’s most trusted institution, at 77 points, compared to business at 52 points and government at 42 points. However, fear of job loss is high, with 47 per cent of Australians worrying about not having the training and skills to get a good paying job, and 48 per cent concerned about automation or other innovations threatening job security.

What do leaders need to do to build trust? Stephen Kehoe, Edelman’s global chair of reputation writes in a recent blog that organisations must recognise that while hope is placed in employers to get it right, people are generally unhappy. Employees and prospective employees want CEOs to act beyond reproach when it comes to speaking the truth.

“Candor, honesty and transparency are all powerful trust-building elements, together with high expectations that CEOs will embody the values and mission of the organisation they lead,” he says. “There are heightened expectations on CEOs as a result, but generally they are not stepping up to the challenge. This is a miss. Not only from the perspective of overall trust, 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.”

Australian’s and Trust

Trust in Australia is up eight points on the local index from 2018, to 48 points, below the global average of 52 points.

More than half (54 per cent) of the mass population believe the system is failing them.

Two in three (66 per cent) Australians believe they and their family won’t be better off in five years.

There is a six point trust gap, with women distrusting institutions at 45 points, while men are “neutral” at 51 points.

The top three fears relate to cybersecurity, reliance on foreign goods, and threats to civil freedoms.

Media engagement is rising with 66 per cent of the mass population consuming and sharing more news. Traditional media is the most trusted news source at 61 points, but Australians trust social media the least (26 per cent compared to 43 per cent globally).

Australia’s most trusted institution is “my employer” (77 per cent) verses government (42 per cent) and business (52 per cent).

79 per cent say CEOs should take the lead on change rather than waiting for government to impose it, up 14 points compared to last year.

54 per cent of employees look to their employer to be a trustworthy source of information.

Peer-to-peer trust has increased the most (12 points) in the last year, becoming the most trusted source, tied with academic experts.

Source: 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer