People Trust Businesses More Than Government
Between the confusion and chaos of the pandemic and the increased politicization of, well, just about everything, trust is an increasingly rare commodity in today’s world.
Nearly six in 10 Americans now say their default reaction is to distrust something until they see evidence to the contrary, according to the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer. And that skepticism is hurting our ability to debate issues or collaborate to work on them. Another 64% say it’s now to a point where people are incapable of having constructive and civil debates about issues they disagree on.
The distrust is aimed at a lot of institutions, but if people do have some faith these days, it’s in an area where you might not expect to find it. Despite the tremendous upheaval happening at companies around the world and an unprecedented number of people quitting their jobs, businesses are the most trusted institution in the country at present—and 77% of the more than 36,000 respondents said they trusted "my employer."
Non-profits came in second. Government was third. And the media was fourth, with only a 50% trust rating.
That puts businesses in a powerful position—and one that could let them lead social change. The survey found that business outscores government by 53 points on competency and 26 points on ethics, but people don’t believe companies are doing enough to address the larger issues facing the world. Climate change was the most frequently cited concern, followed by economic inequality, workforce reskilling and the transmission of trustworthy information. And virtually everyone Edelman spoke with wanted businesses to be more engaged.
“The role and expectation for business has never been clearer, and business must recognize that its societal role is here to stay,” the report reads.
While trust in businesses is high, that feeling does not necessarily extend to the people leading those companies. CEOs are ranked among the three least trustworthy, with only government leaders and journalists ranking lower. There’s a twist to that skepticism, though. While people are wary of CEOs in general, “My CEO” was ranked the third-most-trusted, further underscoring the relationship between employer and employee.
Overall, scientists are the most trusted leaders, followed by coworkers. National health authorities ranked fourth.
The decline in trust for government has been a rapid one. In 2020, government was the most trusted institution. Its trust rating, in that time, has fallen from 65 to 52, a shift Edelman calls “a collapse of Trust in democracies.” And a significant number of people now see government (along with the media) as a divisive, rather than unifying, force. Businesses, however, are seen as much more unifying (with only non-profits being more so).
Trust among the media continues to explore all-time lows in a global basis, with only Russia and Japan trusting traditional media more than people in the U.S. And fake news concerns are at an all-time high in 13 of 27 countries. (Spain, surprisingly, is most concerned about false information, with 84% of the respondents expressing worries, compared to 74% in the U.S.)
The rise in distrust has some serious longer-term implications. Edelman notes it could threaten societal stability, as non-profits and businesses are pressured to take on problems that are beyond their abilities, while people view governments and media as peddling division and disinformation to suit their own purposes. (Some 67% say they feel journalists are purposefully trying to mislead people by making false statements. Government leaders fare no better, with 66% saying the same about them.)
To adjust that, the study says, every institution needs to strive for clear, consistent, fact-based information. And leadership in all categories must focus on long-term thinking, prioritizing solutions over divisiveness. By demonstrating tangible progress, Edelman says, government, media, non-profits and business can collectively restore the public’s belief in society’s ability to build a better future.
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