When was the last time you thanked employees for staying on top of public policy and business news?

Employees who consume news are a valuable asset to their employer, business and society. Even better, the size of this  “informed public” group is skyrocketing, increasing by 22 points from 2018 to 72% in 2019, according to the latest Edelman Trust Barometer.

Edelman, a global communications marketing firm, has conducted an annual survey over the past 19 years to document and monitor trust in business, government, the media and NGOs (non-profit organizations.)

For the third year in a row, Edelman has noted a dramatic shift in the state of trust.  And this time it’s tracking positive from the perspective of business – thanks to us news junkies and other members of the informed public.

Our addiction to staying on top of the news is not a productivity problem for us or our employers, as I had been fearing, but instead is a trust-building move.

Members of the informed public, which make up 16% of the total global population according to Edelman, are now more trusting of institutions, including business and media. (Besides being regular consumers of public policy and business news, members of the informed public are between the ages of 25 and 64, college-educated, and in the top 25% of household income for their age group in each market, as defined by Edelman.)

And in one of the biggest changes this year, we trust our employers more.

In fact, “My Employer” is the most trusted relationship with trust levels at 75% globally—19 points greater than business in general and 27 points higher than government.

Just two years ago, respondents put more faith in their peers – “people like us.” In 2017 “a person like you,” technical experts, and academics were the most credible at 60%. A minority — only 37% — found CEOs believable, a drop of 12% from 2016.

The growing techlash against social media and its distribution of fake news since the last presidential election has made people more wary about their peers as a trusted source of information.

With the flip in trusted relationships, informed employees are looking to partner with their employers, including CEOs. For instance:

  • Compared to their far more skeptical co-workers, trusting employees are more engaged with their employer (71% to 38%); they will advocate more on behalf of their employer (78% to 39%), and they will remain far more committed (83% to 52%) and loyal (74% to 36%).
  • Inside their organization, trusting employees expect to be seen, heard and connected. They want to be involved in planning, have a voice in key decisions and contribute to a company culture that’s values-driven and inclusive (74%). These trusting employees also expect their employer to offer job opportunities, especially good wages, training, career growth and interesting work experiences (80%).
  • Looking outside the organization, trusting employees expect to make a positive impact on societal issues (67%) through their work and through their employer’s purpose.
  • Trusting employees expect CEOs to act in similar ways. CEOs do not merit a “hall pass” to focus on running the business and providing a healthy culture for employees. Trusting employees said they want their CEOs to demonstrate their personal commitment inside and outside the company to do more. This includes:
    • Taking actions to improve society — and do well. This year 73% of trusting employees, a nine-point increase over 2018, said that a company can both increase profits and improve the economic and social conditions in the communities where it operates.
    • Taking the lead on societal change, rather than wait for government to act, with 76% of trusting employees in favor, an 11-point increase over last year.
    • Specifically, employees are looking to their CEO to make a positive change on pay equity (65%), prejudice and discrimination (64%), and training for jobs of tomorrow (64%).
    • Speaking and act with candor, transparency and honesty.
    • Embodying the values and mission of the organization they lead.

While these results are encouraging for employer-employee relationships, two big red flags are waving.

As Edelman noted, the informed public and the less trusting mass population are both united in their belief that the “system” is failing them. Only one in five feels that the ‘system’ is working for them, with nearly half of the mass population believing that the ‘system’ is failing them.

Also, trust is split along gender lines. Overall, women are less trusting in institutions than men. The largest gap is in business with a 13% difference. (Men are trusting at 60% with women trust neutral at 53%.)

Based on these 2019 results, what should CEOs, their strategic advisors and other company leaders do?

The obvious is to harness employees’ desire for change and actively lead change, both inside the company on issues that matter to employees as well as on societal concerns. Ideally the latter should be topics that employees, the CEO, customers, the community and other stakeholders can coalesce around. That helps gain traction, amplify voices, maintain momentum and introduce sustainable change.

Less apparent yet just as valuable, CEOs need to find ways to seed “realistic hope” to keep employees focused, engaged and inspired. For many the future is fueled with fear. Even those who don’t feel the fear recognize the high degree of uncertainty facing us in business, society and the environment. The futurist Bob Johansen has identified “realistic hope” as a key variable to help individuals — especially young people — manage the uncertainty.

And last but not least, CEOs need to encourage employees to stay informed about their employer, business, public policy and the world. Informed employees are making a difference!

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