As public trust ebbs, workers turn to employers for info and assurances

Edelman SVP Jonathan Jordan taps polling data to explain how communicators can deliver reality to fact-starved internal and external audiences—and look toward the ‘next normal.’

As COVID-19 surges and people’s trust in government entities wanes, employees are seeking reliable information and guidance from their organizations.

Jonathan Jordan, Edelman’s senior vice president for employee experience and business transformation, cited Edelman Trust Barometer statistics to offer keen insights on business life amid the pandemic.

In his keynote address Wednesday for Ragan’s Best Practices in Internal Communications & Culture Virtual Summit, Jordan stressed the vital importance for organizations to deliver information and a sense of security to employees in these difficult times.

Despite gaps in trust these days, employers count on their companies to be straight with them and look after their best interests, Jordan said. Externally, consumers want companies looking after their workers, too. That translates to protecting customers.

Disparate trust realities exist today, Jordan said. The informed public is, on average, 14 percentage points more likely than the mass populace to trust NGOs, business sources, the government, and media outlets for reliable information.

“There is this general distrust or decline in trust in government, so [employees] are looking to CEOs to lead,” Jordan said. Employees and consumers alike want chief executives to take a vocal stand on social and workplace issues such as climate change, diversity and inclusion, immigration, income equality, ethical use of technology (privacy and data security) and so on, and for their actions to bolster those stands, he said.

“If you’re in executive comms, this is a great opportunity to build trust,” Jordan said.

With regard to COVID-19, Jordan offered these takeaways:

  • Two-thirds (67%) bemoan the preponderance of misinformation surrounding COVID-19, and a whopping 87% want to hear more from scientists—and for politicians to pipe down for the foreseeable future.
  • A large majority believe things will get significantly worse before they get better because of the virus (68%) and worry more each day about its effects (61%).
  • Globally, people see their employers as better prepared for the pandemic than their countries by six percentage points, with the U.S. at an eight-point differential favoring businesses. Only Germany and Canada expressed greater trust in national preparedness, by one and eight points, respectively.
  • More than three-quarters (78%) of respondents say businesses must keep their employees and, by extension, their customers safe from COVID-19.
  • Nearly 90% want to hear from businesses exactly how they are achieving the above. By significant margins globally, consumers say such messages enhance their trust in brands offering such assurances.
  • Beyond that, 90% say businesses must protect the welfare—both physical and financial—of their employees at all costs, regardless of the impact on the bottom line.
  • Another 69% say they should adapt their HR policies (paid sick leave, expand health coverage, etc.), and 73% recommend adapting operations generally, as needed.
  • The COVID-19 crisis has prompted four phases for organizations: Response, Reality, Resiliency, Recovery. After the “new normal” we’re navigating as the pandemic rolls on, there will emerge a “next normal” (the Recovery phase), comprising cautious behaviors born of the draconian measures we’re now undertaking.
  • That transformation will involve change communications, leadership, HR, facilities—all with employee experience at the center of those efforts.
  • The aforementioned won’t be easy: Employees express concerns about their ability/willingness to return to work, their safety once they do return to the workplace, the communication acumen of their direct supervisors, and their own mental health in light of the pandemic.

In the Q&A session after his presentation, an attendee asked about where to direct employees for reliable information to ease employee anxiety.

“As you know, not all media sources are straight down the middle,” Jordan replied. “One of the smartest things we can do is to partner with the science community. If you’re in the health space, get in one of your health experts or your chief medical officer to be the spokesman, because it’s really about the science and less about the narrative.”

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