The world as we know it has shifted over the last three years, and with it trust in some of the most traditional institutions of government, non-profits and the media. In fact, in the new normal, employers have emerged as an anchor of trust and stability, according to Edelman’s latest Trust Barometer report, Trust in the Workplace. Globally 78 percent of respondents place their trust in their employer, higher than any other institution, and in Hong Kong that figure is 73 percent, so it is clear that the role of the employer can no longer be confined to the four walls of the office or the traditional 9-to-5.
The workplace as our island of civility
The pandemic presented challenges that went well beyond the playbook for employers and HR managers around the globe. Apart from the complex logistics of mobilising and connecting a workforce in a restricted, work-from-home world, communications challenges abounded. In Asia, where the impact of the pandemic was felt first, in-house communicators scrambled to keep up with the constantly evolving situation, while maintaining connections in a disconnected world. These efforts did not go unrewarded, with 69 percent of workers citing their workplace as an important source of community, second only to family and friends at 82 percent.
In an increasingly polarised society, employees also feel more comfortable debating contentious issues with their co-workers than other groups, such as their neighbours and family, another reflection of the community spirit of the workplace. The confidence that there will be mutual respect and agreement on basic facts and that co-workers are open to different perspectives, show the important role that the workplace plays in day-to-day life and also reflects on the focus that many employers continue to place on respect within the workplace.
A source of truth
Misinformation and mistrust of the source of information has been rife since the beginning of the pandemic, communications from ‘my employer’ remain the most believable source of information, trusted by 63 percent, compared to government at 55 percent, media reports with named sources (54 percent) and social media (36 per cent). A great example of this was within the healthcare industry, where many companies drew on their in-house expertise with their medics pivoting to share their insights and understanding about Covid and Covid vaccines with employees, providing an important and trusted platform to ask questions and voice concerns.
It is interesting to note, that credibility in who you trust to tell the truth matters, as does who you’re delivering it to. Among non-managers, 45 percent named ‘my co-workers’ as the most trusted to tell the truth about what is happening in the organisation; among managers, 46 percent trust their own direct managers the most; and among senior managers, 43 percent trust their CEO the most. This clearly shows that a closer personal link to the individual makes a difference and that cascading information through the organisation will have greater impact than information shared with the whole company by senior management alone.
Inside out trust building
Having made an impact within the virtual walls of their companies, employees are now looking to their employers to take a stand on societal issues. In fact, for 69 percent of respondents, this expectation is so strong that it would be a deal breaker when considering a new job. With only career advancement, including competitive wages, and personal empowerment deemed to be of more importance, this is a clear call-to-action for employers to take a stand.
There is also a clear appetite for CEOs to set the example for civil discourse in the workplace, something that global CEOs may be more accustomed to than their APAC counterparts. These sentiments are particularly strong amongst younger generations, many of whom look for employers whose values align with their own when job seeking.
But before rushing to jump on the bandwagon of every cause, companies must take a step back and consider what they are uniquely well placed to talk about. By focusing in on areas that align with the company’s values and missions, as well as those that are passion projects for the CEO, companies can bring an authentic and more powerful voice to their position. This authenticity is also something that existing and potential employees will look for, and that includes action to back up their convictions.
Trust begets trust… and talent
Perhaps one of the most powerful findings, is the importance of demonstrating trust in employees in order to earn their trust in return. Those employees who feel trusted by their CEO actually trust their employer twice as must than those who don’t (92 percent vs 46 percent). That trust is rewarded by greater loyalty, engagement, willingness to recommend, and commitment to excellence.
It’s clear that the role of the employer has evolved into the last bastion of social stability. To take steps toward stabilising societal trust, employers must show reciprocal trust within the workplace, create an environment of trust and civility as they navigate contentious issues, continue to address societal issues and take meaningful action on the societal concerns that matter most to their employees. By setting the tone for public discourse, CEOs have the potential to radiate civility and stability – in the office, in their communities, and around the globe.
Jenny Jackson is Head of Health of Edelman Hong Kong. PRHK Viewpoints is an article series contributed by members of PRHK, Hong Kong's PR and Communications Association.