How Employee Trust Leads To Trusted Brands

Every year, I look forward to the findings published by Edelman in their annual Trust Barometer. 2019’s findings paint a picture of a world where the nature of trust has changed profoundly. People have shifted their trust to the relationships within their control, most notably their employers. Globally, 75 percent of people trust “my employer” to do what is right, significantly more than NGOs (57 percent), business (56 percent) and media (47 percent).

Around the world, there is an urgent desire for change. As economic indicators seem to point toward a slowdown in the near future, fears of job loss remain high. A majority of respondents worry about not having the training necessary to get a good paying job. In a piece last year, we explored some ways brands are helping employees train and retool for the future that aligns with the brand’s vision. Other workers are worried that automation or trade politics will hurt their chances in the market.

Much of the developed world is pessimistic about their future. Only one in five people believe the system is working for them with nearly half saying the system is failing them. One only needs to look around the world to see the effect: In France, yellow vests demonstrate for economic justice; In India, the “Women’s Wall” demonstrates for equality; Amazon employees protest against their working conditions; and Salesforce employee’s protest work for the US Border Agency.

Trusted Leaders Lead

More than 75 percent of respondents believe CEO’s should take the lead on change rather than waiting for government to impose it. The top three areas of where they believe CEO’s can create positive change is around equal pay, prejudice and discrimination, and training for the jobs of tomorrow. As Paul Friederichsen says, “it’s not uncommon to see the vision and convictions of the CEO on full display via advertising, public relations or social media that, in effect, shape the brand’s perceptions in ways that may or may not be scripted into the brand strategy.” But they shouldn’t need to be scripted when a CEO embodies and lives the brand’s values.

Perhaps the most interesting finding in this year’s study is around how much employees see their employers as a trusted partner for change. Fifty-eight percent of the general population employees say they look to their employer to be a trustworthy source of information about contentious societal issues. The five communication topics that are most effective in increasing employer trust are:

  1. Societal Impact: The organization’s contributions for the betterment of society
  2. Values: The organization’s values
  3. The future: The organization’s vision for the future
  4. Purpose: The organization’s mission and purpose
  5. Operations: Operational decisions, including decisions that effect my job

Just as consumers are looking to brands to “do more”, employee expectations have also evolved to include things like shared action around a greater purpose with meaningful societal impact; personal empowerment and having a voice in key decisions, and job opportunities that include wage growth and training/career growth. Meeting these expectations helps build a deep trust.

Strength From Within

Investing in employee trust is investing in your brand’s bottom line. Nearly four out of five respondents believe how a company treats its employees is one of the best indicators of its level of trustworthiness. Think about some of the great brands who’ve gone over and above in the way they are known for treating employees. Last year, Microsoft announced they were requiring all contractors to offer paid parental leave. Starbucks shut their doors in the wake of an incident in Philadelphia to train all employees on racial bias and sensitivity. Gravity Payments in Seattle made headlines when they announced a $70,000 minimum salary for all staff. AT&T created education programs with select universities to help their workforce retrain for the cloud.

Remember that long-term competitiveness is directly linked to the people behind the profits. As Mark DiSomma pointed out here on Branding Strategy Insider, “Long term brands look to different measures – hopefully, their purpose and ambitions – to evaluate whether they are on track. They also recognize that brands live or die on their ability to generate trust.”

Brands that build trust from the inside-out, build a cycle of strength where employees who trust in their employer are more likely to engage in beneficial actions on behalf of the brand. Within the cycle the brand remains strong because it inspires employees who then turn into some of the brands most powerful, vocal and credible advocates who attract new talent and inspire c0-workers to champion the brand.

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