The Importance of Building Trust in Your Business

How do you define trust? According to Merriam-Webster, trust is the “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.”

We can trust a person, an idea, a system or an institution such as a government or business. By claiming a position of authority to govern, serve or pay their constituents, customers or employees, institutions assume a position of being trustworthy. Yet trust must be earned, not assumed, as we’re rightfully skeptical of institutions’ ability to “do the right thing.” There are simply too many examples of abuses of powerand too many opinions of how power should be usedfor everyone to trust every institution 100%.

For businesses, trust is an important metric to monitor, because it indicates how hard they will have to work to earn trust from customers, employees and potential employees (job seekers), and what steps they can take to grow trust.

For the past five years, the Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual global survey, spotlights trust by country, institution type, business sector and type of person. It also looks at what topics contribute to trust, and how leadership can best embody trust. In that spirit, let’s look at key takeaways from the 2016 Trust Barometer and how they might impact your recruiting and human resources efforts.

The “informed public” trusts institutions more than the general population does

Edelman divided survey respondents into two major groups, the informed public and the general population. The former are between the ages of 25 and 64, college educated, in the top 25% of household income and report significant media consumption and engagement in business news. The latter includes everyone. Edelman includes government, NGOs, businesses and media in its definition of institutions.

In 2016, 62% of the global informed public agreed that they trust institutions to do what is right, versus 52% of the global general population. While these numbers have improved over the last five years, the gap between the informed public and the general population suggests that the more people understand the worlds of business and government, the more likely they are to trust them. Workers on the lower end of the income scale with less education are less likely to believe that the system is rigged in their favor.

The US has the greatest gap in trust levels in institutions, with 64% of the informed public trusting in institutions versus 45% of the mass population, a 19-point gap. When segmenting specifically by income, the gap widens. Seventy-one percent of high-income respondents find institutions trustworthy versus 40% of low-income respondents. This 31-point gap is the highest in the world, and more than double the global average of 14 points.

Implication: Your low-wage workers are the least likely to trust you. Used to low pay and thin benefits while watching management drive cars costing more than their yearly income, they can be rightfully skeptical of flowery mission statements and corporate re-org announcements. Gaining trust happens on a practical level: fair wages, better benefits and reasonable hours. Companies that create a positive atmosphere for employees at all levels by communicating a customer-focused mission, appreciating and rewarding good work, and providing opportunities for advancement are more likely to stand out. Attracting and retaining employees across the income spectrum is much easier with these practical building blocks of trust in place.

The majority of the US mass population is not optimistic about the future

Globally, the difference between those who think they will be better off in five years and those who don’t is eight points, with 55% of the informed public agreeing with that statement versus 47% of the mass population. Again, the US has the highest gap (18 points) between the informed public and mass population, with 63% of the informed public saying they will be better off in five years’ time, versus 45% of the mass population.

Implication: Companies have a unique opportunity to instill a sense of optimism in workers at all levels. Think of ways your company can better communicate forward momentum around not only wage increases and opportunities for career growth, but development in your  products and services. Stories about how a new product line was developed or an inefficient process was improved can inspire optimism and trust. When people feel part of something greater and see others working together to make improvements, they’re more likely to feel good about what they do and go home with a sense of satisfaction.

Contributing to economic growth and the greater good inspires trust

When asked about the factors contributing to why their trust in business has decreased, the top answer (50% of respondents) was “fails to contribute to the greater good.” For those saying their trust in business increased, the top two answers were “contributes to economic growth” (59%) and “contributes to the greater good (45%).”

Implication: Companies with mission statements that express how they contribute to the greater good are more likely to inspire trust. Continually reinforcing that mission while also showing how the company fosters economic growth (by providing business to suppliers for example) can also inspire trust. Contributions to the greater good include philanthropy efforts such as volunteer days and donating a portion of profits. Quite simply, the very notion of contribution (versus profit-making) makes a company more trustworthy.

People trust their peers

When asked what actions they’ve taken in relation to a brand, product or service they trust, 59% of all respondents said that they’ve recommended it to a colleague or friend. When asked about the impact of conversations about companies, 75% said these conversations help them make decisions, overcome concerns and warn them about risks.

When asked whom they trust the most when forming an opinion about a company, “a person like yourself” was ranked as the third most credible (63% of respondents), after a technical expert (67%) and an academic expert (64%). The CEO was sixth most credible source, at 49%. “An employee” ranked number 5, at 52%.

Implication: People talk. Companies that make amazing products and do good things worth talking about are more likely garner trust. When they don’t know someone with direct experience with a company or product, people seek out online reviews. Indeed, 61% of Glassdoor users report that they seek company reviews and ratings before making a decision to apply for a job. (Glassdoor U.S. Site Survey, January 2016).

Giving people something good to talk about

In Edelman’s summary of its Trust Barometer research, it calls the new reality of trust “the inversion of influence.” The democratization of information, high profile revelations of misbehavior and income inequality all contribute to this new reality, where peer-to-peer influence is more powerful than the old model of top-down influence from the elites.

Edelman attributes the success of populist political candidates in 2016 to this general level of distrust among the mass population. Business, as the most “trusted to keep pace” of the four institution types Edelman monitored, has the unique opportunity to evolve and adapt their practices, build trust, instill optimism, contribute to society and give people something good to talk about.

Note: Glassdoor is at the nexus of the conversation on trust. By providing tools for employees to share their experiences and for employers to communicate their mission, vision and benefits, the company hopes to create a world and business environment that thrive on transparency and trust. With that in mind, consider signing up for your Glassdoor Free Employer Account.