The record-high trust Australians feel for NGOs, government and media has tumbled, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer 2022, but trust in business remains strong, offering a watershed moment for leaders to take a stand on issues and help shape the agenda.
More than six in 10 respondents ranked business as trustworthy, meaning it was the sole trusted institution when the data was gathered in November last year from more than 36,000 respondents. But the tumble saw Australia lose six points on the trust index this year, meaning we dropped out of the top 10 countries.
The report showed Australians think business is far more capable of creating change for society than the government, but interestingly, the big end of town was lumped into the distrustful group, with a majority of Australians worried that business leaders (61%) are trying to mislead them by saying things that are false or exaggerated.
Businesses that have taken a stand have made headlines for politicising their products or “jumping on the bandwagon” — including Ben and Jerry’s stand on Israel-Palestine relations — but Edelman found overall respondents find businesses competent and ethical, an efficient jump-off point for societal alignments.
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For instance, 44% of Australians say business should be doing more when it comes to climate change, 42% want business to do more on workforce reskilling and 40% of Australians think business needs to take greater action on economic inequality.
And taking a stand sells, according to Edelman — 56% of respondents say they’ll buy brands if they align with their beliefs or values and 64% will invest based on their beliefs and values.
The data also showed nearly three-quarters of Australian employees trust their employer. Seven in 10 respondents say they highly trust employer communications, far higher than government (63%), media (58%), and advertising (51%). And it seems employees are looking for a workplace that reflects their beliefs and values, with 57% saying it was top-of-mind when job hunting.
What creates trust at work?
Edelman’s data showed the provision of “quality information” was the number one most powerful builder of trust.
The results of the 2022 survey paint a very different picture than 12 months ago when public trust was “riding high” amid our ability to bounce back from the pandemic, CEO of Edelman Australia Michelle Hutton says, but she says she did wonder how sustainable it was at the time.
“It’s clear from this year’s results that the trust bubble has burst, and it seems the past 12 months have set Australia down an increasingly divisive path,” she says.
“But amid rising distrust of traditional leaders, there emerges an opportunity for business to play a unifying role by embedding societal action at its operational core.”
Hutton says in the year ahead, “transparency and social action will be the currency with which business will earn the trust of their people and the public”.
“Expectations are high and Aussies are looking to their leaders — and here lies the opportunity for business. 2022 must be the year of action; business has a larger-than-ever mandate to use its resources and scale to create value beyond the balance sheet.
“Many have declared bold ambitions in recent years, and society is now watching closely to see who will deliver.”