Twenty years ago, “business” was seen as inherently untrustworthy and even evil. Since then that attitude has turned around until, if the Edelman Trust Barometer is correct, companies are more trusted than governments and media. It’s a trend that’s been developing for years as global elitism has become more pronounced and social media driven has driven opinion.
Strip out the views of college educated, news consuming individuals (the “informed public”) and the picture is far worse than healthy scepticism. There’s widespread distrust of government and media, mixed with a fear things will be worse. The social contract between government and people is under threat as a view politicians serve and are part of an elite manifests.
Corporations, specifically an individual’s own employer, are being seen as a replacement. More than half of employees trust their employer to be honest with them about societal issues. This goes beyond the usual “employee communication” that has become a staple of HR departments. Engaged employees are expecting companies to join them in tackling issues that align with their core beliefs.
Engaged employees are more loyal and more productive. Companies that demonstrate their engagement with issues can see upturns in sales and brand loyalty. It’s an opportunity that many are yet to tune into.
Executives should be looking beyond the “business as usual” HR activities and questioning how to engage with societal issues in ways that are both heartfelt and genuine. There are plenty of examples to draw on, from grand campaigns such as Nike’s public support for Kaepernick to more community oriented efforts such as Haven Power asking employees to vote for which charity to support. Each taps into the mood of employees, customers and communities.
Whatever track is chosen, it needs to be an honest one. Companies are in a strong and trusted position with their employees. Paying lip-service or behaving dishonestly can easily break that trust. When that happens staff, customers and investors will soon look elsewhere.