According to the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer, Australia i leading global trust gains, as trust in Australian business eclipses the government and NGOs for first time.
The 2021 Barometer reveals that trust across all Australian institutions has reached an all-time high, resulting in significant gains for business (plus eleven points), government (plus seventeen points), NGOs (plus eight points) and media (plus twelve points).
At the same time, Australia’s overall trust index recorded the largest gain globally (plus twelve points) among the twenty-seven countries surveyed. Despite this, Australia for the second year running has the largest trust inequality gap on record globally, with a twenty-two point difference between the informed public (seventy-seven points) and the mass population (fifty-five points).
Edelman’s Trust Barometer further revealed that all institutions are now perceived as ethical, and all are trending towards ‘competent’ territory, with business and NGOs the only institutions seen as both competent and ethical.
This is stark shift from last year’s results which found no institution to be ethical and competent. Business has emerged as the institution regarded as the most competent, holding a thirty-point lead over government and twelve points over NGOs.
NGOs are seen as the most ethical institution leading by seven points over business and government, and thirteen points over media.
The national increase in trust has also been felt across all industry sectors, with the exception of technology. Healthcare (plus nine points), energy (plus eight points), telecommunications (plus seven points) and financial services (plus seven points) have recorded the highest growth of trust compared to the technology sector which fell by five points.
Australians shift concerns from societal to individual
The data uncovered the shifting concerns among Australians amid the pandemic, with personal concerns like job security and health being prioritised over societal issues like the climate crisis, economic inequality and education.
Job loss is Australia’s number one worry, with more than four in five reporting concerns about losing their job and more than half worried the pandemic will accelerate the rate at which companies replace humans with AI and robots.
This result comes as no surprise as almost two-thirds reported the pandemic had reduced their hours or eliminated their job completely.
Climate change and cyber-security closely follow these concerns with sixty-six per cent of Australians concerned about climate change and thirty-six per cent are fearful, sitting ahead of concerns over contracting COVID-19 at fifty-four per cent.
This means Australians are more concerned about the environment than they are about personally contracting COVID-19, according to the data comparison.
The barometer also exposed Australians have lost trust in their local community (minus five points) and credibility in peers (minus five points), while trust in institutional leaders such as government leaders (plus thirteen points), CEOs (plus nine points), journalists (plus five points), and religious leaders (plus five points) have increased.
The employer-employee relationship emerges as crucial trust bond
Employers are seen as one of the most trusted institutions, with seventy-eight per cent of Australians trusting their employer over business generally (sixty-three per cent), NGOs (sixty-two per cent), government (sixty-one per cent) and media (fifty-one per cent).
This strong relationship between employee and employer is seen throughout the Trust Barometer, with employers the second most believed and trusted source, after government. Globally, when businesses perform well with guarding information quality there is a five-point-eight per cent increased business trust. But with this rise in trust comes greater responsibility.
Employee expectations have shifted with worker’s health and safety (plus fourty-five points), regular employee communications (plus fourty-four points) and upskilling (plus thirty-nine points) rising as important attributes since the start of the year.
Edelman’s data also revealed employees and consumers are expected to be taken into consideration when making business decisions with two-thirds of employees believing they have the power to force corporations to change and fifty-nine per cent of employees more likely to voice their objections to management or engage in workplace protest compared to last year.
Michelle Hutton, CEO Australia and Vice Chair of Asia Pacific, Edelman said, “as the world transformed in response to the pandemic, Australians more than ever turned to their employers for guidance, reassurance and information they can trust.”
“The workplace-home divide has been broken down, and employers have embraced a new role in their employee’s lives. In an environment that demanded empathy and transparency, a strong bond of trust has resulted between organisations and their people.”
“Having forged this bond, the opportunity exists for business to enrich their culture and drive deeper engagement in the post-COVID era. Our study also shows that Australians are looking to their employers to engage on the pressing issues facing society – and businesses that take up this mantle stand to gain trust across the stakeholder ecosystem.”
Declaring information bankruptcy
Despite modest gains, Australian media continues to lag other institutions by double-digit figures, with no one media information source seen as trusted. Traditional media (minus three points) and search engines (minus one point) have continued to fall, while owned channels and social media have jumped by five and nine points respectively.
The data also shows there has been significant increases of trust in government officials (plus fourteen points), journalists (plus eleven points) and NGO representatives (plus one point) despite most Australians (sixty-eight per cent) still being concerned about the political and ideological agendas of most news organisations.
The continued distrust of news sources, led by misinformation, has led to the hesitancy of the COVID-19 vaccination.
Our study found Australians with poor “information hygiene,” including reliance on social media as a sole source, the sharing of unvetted stories and failure to seek broad news engagement, there was less willingness to get a COVID-19 vaccine within a year (sixty-seven per cent versus secenty-three per cent for people with good information hygiene).
Business to lead the way forward with action, empathy and partnership
As the most trusted institution and the second most trusted leader, behind scientists, employer CEOs will need to continue to do the right thing and step up to their new role in order to preserve their newfound trust.
Sixty-six per cent of Australians agree CEOs should step in when the government does not fix societal problems and seventy-two per cent believe CEOs should act first rather than waiting for the government to enact change.
Societal leaders must have the courage to lead with facts with key institutional leaders suspected of lies and misinformation; fifty-eight per cent believe our government leaders are purposely trying to mislead people. All institutions need to provide and share trustworthy content, to ensure Australians can digest news that is unbiased and reliable.
“Having gained significant public trust over the past year, the challenge for Australian institutions now becomes how to build on this solid foundation,” Hutton said.
“After a year of disruption, fear and uncertainty, the need for empathy and open communication is at an all-time high. Leadership among the business community will be critical to Australia’s recovery, and we will be looking to them to step into less familiar areas and lead a coalition for progress.”
“As we are quickly learning, 2021 by no means marks an end of the transformation and disruption brought on by 2020, and our shared success as a society will be vastly shaped by how institutions respond to the trust the public has placed in them. Really, it’s theirs to lose,” she concluded.