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A Crisis of Trust

Last week, the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer was released. In case you aren’t familiar, this is a report of findings from annual research conducted in 28 countries to understand and trend trust and perceived credibility in institutions globally. The survey includes 33,000 individual responses each year. This year was the 18th annual report.

The recent results for the U.S., in particular, have been troubling. Last year, trust levels in the U.S. had fallen to an all-time low in the 17-year history of the report. Trust fell in every institution type they track: Business, Media, Government and NGO’s. It wasn’t a pretty picture.

This year’s report is much worst.

Here’s an excerpt from the executive summary of the report that helps illustrate the magnitude of the findings:

“No country saw steeper declines than the United States, with a 37-point aggregate drop in trust across all institutions. The loss of trust was most severe among the informed public—a 23-point fall on the Trust Index—nearly erasing the “mass-class” divide that once stood between this segment of the U.S. population and the country’s far-less-trusting mass population.”

Richard Edelman, whose company produces this report, goes so far as to say in this report that “informed public trust imploded, down 23 Trust Index points to 45, ranking the U.S. lowest of the 28 nations surveyed.”

Trust levels aren’t great in most countries involved in this report, but things are pretty dire in the U.S.

As you dig a little deeper into the findings, a few other interesting things jump out.

First, in an era of “fake news,” we have lost confidence in the media.

“In 22 of 28 countries, media is now distrusted. There is a widespread belief that media is failing to meet key societal expectations—receiving scores of 50 percent or less when it comes to guarding information quality, educating people on important issues, and helping inform good life decisions.”

And, our faith in our fellow human even took a hit this year.

“The credibility of “a person like yourself” declined substantially, and peers are no longer the most-believed source of information.”

But, we are looking for someone to trust and believe in. Among those we are looking to for leaders are the CEOs of businesses.

“There are new expectations of corporate leaders. Nearly 7 in 10 respondents say that building trust is the No. 1 job for CEOs, ahead of high-quality products and services. Nearly two-thirds say they want CEOs to take the lead on policy change instead of waiting for government, which now ranks significantly below business in trust in most markets.”

Overall, the report is alarming and eye-opening. You can download a copy here. It’s worth a read.

What All of this Means for Employee Engagement

As I’ve reflected on these findings, I think they represent both a challenge and an opportunity for employers.

On the one hand, trust is critical in the workplace. The degree to which employees trust leaders, managers and coworkers is a known driver of engagement. In an external environment that might be described as a “crisis of trust,” there are strong headwinds pushing against our efforts to build trust at work. Trust building is more challenging and important than ever.

But, the Edelman report seems to suggest that people are looking for someone to trust. We are expecting CEOs and business to lead in ways that they haven’t in the past. As employers, your people want to trust you. We are all craving someone or something to believe in that won’t let us down. This is a huge opportunity.

Now is the time to get serious about building trust. But how?

The best place to start is by looking in the mirror.

“He who does not trust enough, will not be trusted.”

-Lao Tzu

It’s really hard to trust someone who doesn’t trust you. Are your behaviors or policies sending a message of trust or distrust?

As a manager, when you ask someone on your team to do something, do you trust them to complete it?

Or, do you follow up frequently with questions like, “How is that project coming along?”

While you may think you are showing interest by asking these questions, the person on the other side of these inquiries hears that you don’t trust them to get it done as agreed upon.

When you communicate with your team, do you give them the whole story? Even when it’s not great news?

Sugarcoating or withholding information sends a message that you don’t trust employees to be able to handle the truth. They will find out the full story, they always do.

And, how about your policy manual? Does it communicate trust? Are you asking people to prove they were at the doctor’s office or a funeral rather than taking their word for it?  Do you have an unnecessarily restrictive dress code that seems to suggest that people can’t be trusted to dress appropriately of their own accord?

It might be time to revisit some of your workplace rules that are diminishing trust from day one of employment.

Take some time to see your organization and your leadership behaviors from the employee’s perspective.

Challenge yourself to extend more trust. Trust is reciprocal. By trusting more, you will be more trusted.

To build more trust, go first.

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Jason Lauritsen