The world continues to experience the fallout of the pandemic. Our most recent 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer Spring Update revealed heightened anxiety and fears of job loss, mental health issues, and financial ruin. Amid this, the inequality gap is widening and trust in traditional institutions is eroding amongst the British people.
People’s trust continues to shift from government, media, and power elites to that which is local, relatable, and tangible. ‘My employer’ has emerged as more trusted in the UK than any other institution - 76 percent of us put trust in our employer. Additionally, in an environment of disinformation and mistrust of media, communication employees receive from their employer is ranked as the most reliable source of trusted information.
Why? Principally because the employee-employer relationship is close and personal. It operates in a day-to-day environment that people see and experience. As the global information crisis rages and disinformation undermines trust, UK employees are turning to their employer for guidance and help navigating the complexity of the pandemic.
Power is shifting. When asked to rank which group was more important to a company’s long-term success, employees came out first with a 26-point lead over customers. Prioritising commitment to employees and building trusted relationships within the workplace is job number one for business. A positive employee-employer dynamic is essential for corporate success.
High trust breeds responsibility and expectations. As governments are perceived to be ineffective or failing, others must step in and fill the void. Seven in ten employees in the UK expect their employer to act on social issues. We expect to see our leaders addressing vaccine hesitancy, climate change, and racial injustice. Employers cannot rest on their laurels. If they don’t lead change on issues or fail to align their actions with public intentions, employees will speak out against their employers, giving rise to activism.
So, as an employer, what can you do to build and maintain trust?
Be employee-centric: Be willing to emphasise employee empowerment. A new way of working is at play and top-down control structures are a thing of the past. Understanding employee sentiment and allowing for participation is critical. Employees want the opportunity to influence and shape decisions. Having an employee communication infrastructure that is fit for purpose and supports two-way conversation is fundamental.
Lead with Purpose: Review it, evolve it and act on it. Build on current trust levels and use a clearly defined Purpose to connect as a community. In times of crisis, employees want to feel an even greater sense of community, and working towards a clearly defined Purpose builds connections. Examining what you offer employees and updating your EVP to reflect changes following the events of the pandemic will help activate new commitments such as those relating to DEI or sustainable employment.
Engage Empathy: As we look to our employers to take the lead on social issues, empathy is at the very core of leading change. Trusted leaders are those who deeply understand the essential role of empathy in issues that range from building inclusive cultures to addressing concerns around vaccine hesitancy. Empathy is a new responsibility - before 2020, empathetic leadership was an advantage. Now it is a necessity. Having experienced a pandemic, workplace stress, and uncertainty, employees will remember how their leaders acted at this time and whether they were heard, seen, understood, and included.
Nicole Linger is a Senior Director in the London Corporate team and Head of Employee Experience EMEA.