CONNECTIONS

An Edelman perspective on making meaningful employee connections that deepen engagement, build trust and accelerate business performance.

APRIL 2014

CREDIBILITY FROM WITHIN
E MP L O YE E E N GA GE ME NT IN S I GH T S F R O M THE 20 14 E DE L M AN T R U ST B A R O ME TE R

It’s hardly a secret: Year after year, regular employees – and particularly those with technical expertise – are identified as some of the most trusted spokespeople a company can have. This is particularly relevant this year, given that trust in business has stabilized and people believe companies can simultaneously pursue self-interests while doing good work for society. Combined with a historically low trust in government, this dynamic opens the door for business to lead societal change, with employees strengthening an organization’s credibility to do so. As this year’s results demonstrate, credibility does indeed come from within.

TRUST STUDY HIGHLIGHTS
 In five years, the credibility of regular employees has increased dramatically, ahead of that of the CEO. Since 2009, the credibility of regular employees has increased a full 20 percent – more than any other category – while trust in “a person like yourself” has risen 15 percent (see graph to right). Trust in CEOs has lagged behind all other sources except government officials. Employees are the most credible voices on multiple topics, including the company’s work environment, integrity, innovation and business practices. Employees outranked all other spokespeople, including the CEO, on topics related to a company’s culture, behaviors and environment, particularly when it comes to innovation and integrity. In fact, employees are three times more credible when talking about working conditions than the CEO. That said, CEOs still maintain strong credibility when talking about financial earnings and operational performance. How a company treats employees can significantly help – or harm – overall trust. New to this year’s study is the degree to which treatment of employees impacts trust. “Respecting employee rights” is among the top three most important factors positively affecting trust – nearly as critical as ensuring quality control and protecting customer data. Conversely, having sub-standard work conditions is among the most damaging factors, along with displaying unethical business practices, exposing customer data and acting irresponsibly during a crisis.

Employees and executives alike agree that “treating employees well” is one of the most important things a company can do to build trust, yet both groups said companies are underperforming in this regard. In previous years, executives have prioritized treatment of employees as a much lower driver of trust; this year’s data indicates leaders increasingly recognize how critical a company’s relationship with its workforce is to overall trust. That said, when asked how well companies are actually treating employees relative to expectations, a significant gap emerged (27 percent) – among the largest in the study – indicating an opportunity for companies to take a good, hard look at how to become more trusted employers. Regular employees are more skeptical of nearly all information sources than executives. While those in senior positions tend to place greater trust in various information sources than regular employees do, both groups agree that a company’s technical experts are highly credible. In addition, when it comes to the CEO, executives cited 12 percent greater trust than regular employees. Executives and employees agree that CEOs should build trust by engaging with employees about the business. When asked what actions a CEO could take to build trust in both themselves as well as their company, both employees and executives cite “engaging employees regularly to discuss the state of the business. Perhaps not surprisingly, employees prioritize CEO interaction more highly than executives.

THREE STEPS FOR BUIL DING CREDIBILITY FRO M WITHIN
This year’s Trust Barometer has clear implications for how organizations can strengthen trust between employees and the company, among employees and their peers, and between employees and the outside world: Find meaningful ways to engage employees regularly on the state of the business. Consistently low CEO credibility means it’s important for leadership to remain present and transparent – particularly during times of change and uncertainty. Bring the company’s strategy to life through authentic storytelling, and make every effort to get leaders out of the boardroom and onto the floor, informally connecting with employees. Conduct research to uncover ways to improve employees’ relationships with the company and its leaders. Build an authentic innovation story from within. Engage internal technical experts (such as scientists, engineers and developers) to co-create the company’s innovation story, particularly as it relates to pursuing new ideas that benefit society. Consider devising ways to meaningfully recognize “everyday leaders” through high-profile recognition programs and incentives. Foster a culture of “speaking out” and advocating for the company, especially on topics where employees are highly credible, such as working conditions, integrity and business practices. When it comes to leading the debate on driving change for the good of society, tap respected internal experts to help inform and deliver this message. If your company doesn’t have a robust ambassador program in place, now may be time to start developing one.

For more information, please contact Edelman Employee Engagement at employee.engagement@edelman.com. For more information, please contact Edelman Employee Engagement at EmployeeEngagement@edelman.com.

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CONCLUSION
A steady, sustained rise in the credibility of employees, combined with the opportunity for business to lead the debate for societal change, shows that companies can authentically drive such conversations by amplifying the power of employees’ voices. This includes leveraging trusted internal experts as official external ambassadors, but also engaging and building relationships with all employees, bolstering support from every corner of the organization.

ABOUT US
Edelman’s Employee Engagement Practice helps organizations accelerate business performance, delivered by highly engaged and trusted employees. We do this by making meaningful, trust-building connections — connecting employees with the company, connecting employees with each other, and connecting employees with the outside world. We have a global network of employee engagement specialists who can develop engagement strategy; deploy the tools and processes to deliver it; create the multimedia channels and content that support it; and design the insight mechanisms to measure it. For more information, visit us at ee.edelman.com, follow us on Twitter at @EdelmanEE or email us at employee.engagement@edelman.com. Complete information about the 2014 Edelman Trust Barometer is available at Edelman.com/Trust2014. Specific data sets by industry and geography are available upon request.

For more information, please contact Edelman Employee Engagement at employee.engagement@edelman.com. For more information, please contact Edelman Employee Engagement at EmployeeEngagement@edelman.com.

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