Our very own Penelope Mantzaris, Senior Vice President at Edelman Data & Intelligence, was a featured guest on the Future of Work Hub Podcast where she talked with host, Lucy Lewis, partner at Lewis Silkin, on the the role of trust and its impact on workplace culture.
Lucy Lewis: Hello, and welcome to the Future of Work Hub’s “In Conversation with…” podcast. I’m Lucy Lewis, a Partner in Lewis Silkin’s employment team and, in this podcast series, I will be hosting exclusive discussions with innovators, business leaders and thought leaders to explore their perspectives on the longer term trends and immediate drivers shaping the world of work. And in this episode, we’re going to focus on trust. Trust is a theme that has been central to our discussions on the Future of Work Hub over the past few years and I’m really excited to be joined by Penelope Mantzaris.
Penelope is a Senior Vice President at Edelman Data and Intelligence and Deputy Head of Human Intelligence EMEA. Edelman is a global communications firm that partners with businesses and organisations to evolve, promote and protect their brands and reputation, and Edelman Data and Intelligence, or DXI as it’s known, is a global insight, research and data analytics consultancy which brings together data insight, analytics, research and data science, along with AI capabilities of Edelman.
And Edelman is really well known for its Trust Barometer, an annual global survey of more than 32,000 people across 28 countries, and it’s been measuring trust in our society for more than 20 years. Penelope has extensive experience across brands, trust, reputation, customer experience and, importantly for us today, employee engagement.
And it’s absolutely the perfect time to be speaking to Penelope, because Edelman’s 2023 Trust Barometer is hot off the press and I’m really looking forward to discussing that with you today, alongside Edelman’s research and what that means to the world of work.
So welcome Penelope. It’s really great to have you with us.
Penelope Mantzaris: Thank you.
TRUST – THE NEW CURRENCY OF RELATIONSHIPS
Lucy Lewis: Now, Trust Barometer reports are really valued sources of insight at a global level, and they look at these key emerging issues in relation to trust and the impact trust is having on business. We’ve been following the reports really closely at the Hub and I do want to talk to you about this year’s findings but, before we do that, I wondered if we could just take a step back and reflect a bit on why it’s so important to understand how trust is evolving.
Penelope Mantzaris: Of course. So, as you mentioned, at Edelman we’ve studied trust for more than 20 years and we truly believe that it’s the ultimate currency in the relationship that all institutions, so business, government, NGOs and media, build with their stakeholders.
Trust is the foundation that allows an organisation to take responsible risk and to innovate and, if it makes mistakes, to rebound from them. So, in that way trust is a kind of insurance for a business, beyond, say, just its reputation. Because reputation fades in importance if personal experiences are discordant with that reputation, but trust is an individual belief and therefore the strongest and most entrenched anchor in the decision-making process. And that bears out in the numbers because, as we’ve said, we have been studying trust for more than 20 years, not just for these big institutions but also for individual businesses and, what we know is, that for employees it generates twice the amount of loyalty and advocacy if you’re highly trusted versus an organisation that is less trusted. For investors, it drives a five-point advantage over the sector in terms of share price and 11 points in crisis. When it comes to media it delivers twice as much positive media coverage if you’re trusted versus not. And for consumers, they pay 14% more on average for a trusted brand than one that’s less trusted.
Lucy Lewis: Fascinating to see just what an amazing difference it can make.
Penelope Mantzaris: Yes, absolutely. And the numbers bear out year after year. You know we’ve been studying dozens of companies over the last three or four years when we developed our Edelman Trust Management, which is our bespoke approach for measuring trust. We can see that it makes a real difference in terms of the numbers.
THE EVOLUTION OF TRUST AND THE RISE OF POLARISATION
Lucy Lewis: The other thing that I know Edelman has shown, and I think this is fascinating, is that trust is fundamental to organisational resilience. I think that Edelman has shown that a trusted organisation can be eight times, I mean eight times, more resilient. You know, it’s amazing. And, we all had this sort of expectation that we’d go into 2022 and perhaps we’d see a return to a normal after the pandemic and it hasn’t really panned out like that. You know, we’ve had Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. We’ve seen huge geopolitical disruption, you know, and volatility. We’re seeing ongoing climate shocks and of course, we’re all managing the cost of living and, in that ever shifting landscape, I’m really interested in your views about the way trust has evolved, particularly in the last few years, and then where we are now with the 2023, hot off the press, Trust Barometer.
Penelope Mantzaris: Absolutely. So, in the last two decades of research, we’ve documented many trends in trust, including, quite famously, the shift of trust from experts and authority figures to “people like me”, which was well over a decade ago now.
And, more recently, we’ve really focused on things like transparency, disinformation and a trust gap between what we term the “informed public”, people who are more educated, have higher income and self-report to be really engaged in current affairs versus the general population. And all of those together really support the main theme of the recently launched Trust Barometer. And that’s given rise to the core of this report which is polarisation.
And what we mean by polarisation is an increase of forces like a distrust in the government, a lack of shared identity in communities where the people think there’s systemic unfairness and also economic pessimism, societal fears and distrust in the media. And all of those are really leading to this intense polarisation we’re seeing which is affecting trust.
Lucy Lewis: It's fascinating and we probably all in our lives, when we reflect on it, can sense that sort of feeling of polarisation. What do you think is leading to that increase in polarisation?
Penelope Mantzaris: Well, there are a number of forces coming together. Anxieties about the economy as you mentioned, imbalance between the major institutions of business, government, media, NGOs, the mass class wealth gap and also the battle for truth in the disinformation age as it were.
One of the major findings this year is that there’s been a dramatic collapse in economic optimism around the world. So, year after year, we ask people how they feel about their economic prospects - do they think that their families will be better off in five years’ time. And over the past few years, responses to this question have been quite steady. But over the last year we saw a drastic 10-point drop. 24 out of the 28 countries surveyed are reporting all-time lows, including every developed market. This means that globally people are much less confident about their financial prospects than they were even a year ago coming out of the pandemic. And that economic fear is one log on a bigger fire of fear and anxiety because we see that economic fears like whether you’ll lose your job, you know, and incoming recession or if inflation will make things less affordable, really match large scale survival related fears that affect the breadth of society like climate change, the threat of nuclear war and resource shortages.
BUSINESSES REMAIN THE ONLY TRUSTED INSTITUTION – RANKED MORE TRUSTWORTHY THAN GOVERNMENT
Lucy Lewis: It's interesting to hear you say that, because I think it reflects what we see when we’re advising employers. You know, just within businesses, there’s a lot of fear, a lot of day to day anxiety and there’s a need for stability, but I guess the question for you guys is, who do people turn to for that stability? Where do people find that?
Penelope Mantzaris: So, when it comes to the four major institutions that we look at, so business, NGOs, media and government, business remains the only trusted institution. So, we ask, and have always asked, the same question which is, how much do you trust this organisation, whether a business, NGO, media or government, to do what is right? And that’s measured on a nine point scale. Our high trust is measured on whether someone has given a seven, eight or nine on the scale and if that totals over 60% of people then that institution is highly trusted. And business is the only trusted institution, NGOs and media have fallen a little bit over the past year and government has stayed the same, and trust for all those institutions is very much neutral.
And in addition, businesses, or companies, also have the role of being employers and we’ve consistently seen that employers are uniquely trusted. In fact, “my employer” is even more trusted than business itself.
WHAT DRIVES MISTRUST?
Lucy Lewis: When we look at these scores of the institutions that are not employers, and we’ll come to talk about employers, because that’s a key part of managing the future of work, but what do you think is driving down the scores of other institutions?
Penelope Mantzaris: We look at many different aspects that could be driving mistrust and one that comes up quite strongly correlated is in terms of whether these institutions are providing misleading or trustworthy information. So globally, our respondents say that government provided more false information than quality information.
And media, traditionally the guardians of information, provided just as much unreliable as reliable information. Whereas, businesses and NGOs are both seen as providing much more trustworthy information, and this is even stronger when looking at the information provided by your employer.
Lucy Lewis: We’ve talked a little bit about why the trust scores in other institutions might be reducing, but what does that mean in terms of individuals? So, an employee’s approach to trust?
Penelope Mantzaris: So, great question. On the one hand, we see that conventional societal leaders are distrusted. Government leaders are the lowest, followed by journalists and general CEOs. But, on the other hand, we see that trust is very much local and people trust those that they have real world interactions with, their neighbours, their co-workers and, really importantly from an employee point of view, the Chief Exec of their own company.
HOW TO BUILD TRUST IN THE WORKPLACE – WHAT BUSINESSES CAN DO AND WHERE OPPORTUNITIES LIE
Lucy Lewis: And that’s a really, really useful way to get into talking about the workplace and the trust the employees have in the businesses and, you know, you’ve talked about businesses retaining that bastion of trust and stability. Other institutions have seen a reduction in score that businesses haven’t seen, what do you think that means for business? What opportunities does that bring?
Penelope Mantzaris: So, you’re correct. As well as being trusted, business is once again the only institution that is also seen as competent and ethical. In fact, business increased its ethics for the third straight year, rising 20 points since 2020. And the reality is, we can’t assume that the rise in the ethics rating for business is the result of the entirety of the business world waking up one day and deciding to be more ethical. Rather what we see in the data is that consumers and employees are both applying pressure to business, buying brands that match their values, wanting to work for companies that have a positive societal impact. In fact, 69% of people agree that having a positive societal impact is a strong expectation or deal breaker when considering a job. And business is responding to market needs and demands, particularly as there is no sign that this pressure is letting up.
People also overwhelmingly want more engagement from business on a range of societal issues, which is where the opportunity is. People are six times more likely to say that business isn’t doing enough on climate change or inequality compared to doing enough. What that tells us is that there is a mandate for business in general to do more. Of course, this doesn’t translate into blanket expectation for each company to wade into every topic, but recognising that pressure will exist and purposely choosing when and how to get involved based on your company’s business, context, values, stakeholder expectations and other factors is vital.
And beyond business, as you pointed out, in a world swirling with anxiety, uncertainty and continued trust decline, it’s really “my employer” that acts as the last frontier, the last bastion of trust.
In fact, over the course of 2022, the employer trust advantage, i.e. the delta between the high trust people have in their employer over the trust they have in all four institutions, including business, has increased to a record high of 21 points. In the UK and the US we see a trust delta of 30 and 27 points respectively. It’s not a new trend, but it is at the highest that we’ve ever seen.
So why is employer trust so steady? One explanation that trust is local, when we asked employees who they trust to do what’s right, it’s those they interact with in the workplace. My co-worker is the number one most trusted group, and also the only group that doesn’t see a trust decline over the last year, followed by my manager, the Head of HR and my employer CEO. This strong trust is a stark contrast to those outside the immediate workplace.
This is really even more pronounced with Gen Z and young Millennials because young employees especially, want their employer to make more information about contentious issues available to the general public. They feel employers should even train employees on how to have these conversations about contentious issues outside of the workplace. So very much a mandate to carry on talking about these things and investing in them.
KEY CHARACTERISTICS FOR BUILDING TRUST IN AN ORGANISATION
Lucy Lewis: That’s really interesting and it definitely reflects what we see. And employers, particularly through the pandemic have worked hard to build trust and one of the questions that we find ourselves getting now, is that businesses have understood the value of trust, they know it’s important to cultivate trust inside their organisation, so with their employees, but also outside their organisation. You talked about the value of trust in terms of customers and consumers and brand, but one thing I think business have really been concerned about, as we look ahead, and you talked a bit about confidence, economic confidence and businesses are also facing those challenges…they’re looking ahead thinking, in the next year, in the next 12 months we’ve got some quite difficult business decisions to make. But one of their concerns is, we’ve worked incredibly hard, particularly through the pandemic to build and retain trust, and I know you’ve got lots and lots of experience working with clients supporting them on their journey of building trust, and I’m really interested to hear your thoughts on how a business can go about facing those really challenging difficult decisions without that impacting the trust that they’ve worked so hard for.
Penelope Mantzaris: Absolutely. So first, let’s examine how employers are earning trust at the moment. So, what I’m going to talk about now is based not on this most recent Trust Barometer but one from a few months back which was focussed specifically on building employer trust.
So, we looked at 39 different characteristics of an organisation that could impact on how much people trust their employers, and we found the number one driver of trust is employers who are trustworthy sources of information about contentious issues. And the second driver is those employers that make employees feel comfortable voicing their opinions, even when they’re different from that of their boss. Statistically these are more likely to increase trust, more than paying a fair wage to employees. So, really key.
Then of course, there’s workplace culture. It’s critical to ensure employees feel comfortable discussing divergent opinions, having a zero tolerance policy for personal attacks or hate speech or providing resources for employees to use if a co-worker acts disrespectfully towards them, helps to keep the temperature down on hot button debates.
We talked a little bit about my employer CEO and that is really important. Executive behaviour matters. CEOs who acknowledge the different perspectives within their workforce are modelling civil discourse. And when sharing information credibility matters and which voices carry credibility varies across the workforce. So, this is key as you say in times when difficult decisions are going to be made, keeping the channels of communication open.
So, different sources resonate with different stakeholders inside the organisation. For example, non-managers are most likely to trust their co-workers to tell them the truth about what’s happening. Managers trust their own direct managers. And Senior Managers trust the CEO. So basically, that means when you’re communicating and engaging your workforce, tapping into trusted voices at each level is key.
When the voice of the CEO conveys reliable information working alongside the proximity and trustworthiness of my manager and my co-workers, you have a trifecta of trusted sources within your organisation. But the most important way that leaders can build trust is by placing their trust in employees first. Simply put, to earn their trust give them yours. Among the 71% who said their CEO trusts them, you can see really high employee trust. When people don’t feel their CEO trusts them, the picture changes drastically. They distrust the workplace, and they distrust management.
As levels of employer trust increases, so does trust in other institutions. And I think that is really powerful, because it means that building employer trust is not only critical for a company, but it’s actually critical for society as a whole, because it is an indicator of building trust in that overall society. And when it comes to the environment, we’re all operating in right now, with this increased polarisation, it becomes even more of a burning platform for employers to really focus on that trust with employees.
HOW TO MEASURE TRUST IN THE WORKPLACE
Lucy Lewis: Thank you. There’s some really helpful things in there and actually there’s some things that we’ve talked about in the Future of Work Hub before, and that’s the importance of trust at every level. To build trust within an organisation, you can’t just rely on senior management trust. You have to ensure that trust filters through all the way through the organisation, and I think some of the things you’ve said about how you do that, about creating space that people can speak up even if their view is different from others, or their view is challenging, is really, really good advice.
But I guess that takes me to another kind of practical question which is, businesses and employers will do a lot of work around trying to grow and build trust, but how do they know if they are being successful? How do you go about measuring trust in an organisation?
Penelope Mantzaris: So that’s a really good question, obviously one we do get a lot from our clients. Trust is this quite nebulous concept really, but very important. Hand in hand with our Trust Barometer that we’ve done for 20 years, about five years ago we started to build our framework for measuring that trust in individual organisations, which we call Edelman Trust Management or ETM. And through many different pieces of research - we did a lot of talking to academics, we did a lot of tracking businesses, their share prices, levels of trust and different markets, we did a lot of online secondary analysis to see what was written about companies, aggregated that and so on, to build this framework.
And really, this framework hinges off the main trust thought as I spoke about: do we trust an organisation to do what is right. But within that we found five dimensions that really are able to explain about 90% of the trust in any organisation. And it’s slightly different for every industry. It’s different for every client and those five key points are, how does it resonate with myself, you know, is it dependable, reliable, is it good at what it does and so on. And within each of these, they’ll be other different aspects of an employer or an organisation that feed into all of these dimensions. And that’s what we use to measure trust in an organisation. So, understanding which of these dimensions are most important to your organisation and then understanding what are all the different components that impact on those dimensions and how you can move them positively by things that you do and also by things that you say.
Lucy Lewis: That’s been really helpful. And really interesting to hear how you go about measuring trust, because it can feel quite a nebulous concept. But now we understand that’s what you’ve got to do, you’re the CEO of a business, you’re really focussed on trust. What are the things that you really need to be putting your mind to in the next 12 months?
Penelope Mantzaris: Overwhelming, people say that Chief Executives are expected to take a public stand on the treatment of employees, both inside and outside their company. So, climate change, discrimination, the wealth gap and immigration. And these are strong majorities - over three quarters of people for most of those items.
So, the CEO voice is expected to be present, what are they obligated to do? A lot of it has to do with personal economic security. People want fair compensation for employees, strong and fair communities, properly paid taxes, and skills training for employees who are displaced by automation and other technologies.
THE FUTURE OF WORK – WHAT IS MISSING FROM THE CURRENT CONVERSATION?
Lucy Lewis: Thanks Penelope. We’re running short of time, and it’s been totally fascinating, but there’s one more question that I would like to ask and it’s something that I’m asking all our guests in this 2023 podcast series. Because what the last few years have done is shone a light on the future of work and the huge amount of opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. What I’m really interested to hear from you is what you think is missing from the current conversation about the future of work? What are the things that aren’t getting the attention they deserve and why do you think they’re important?
Penelope Mantzaris: I think the biggest thing for me is still around the return to the office debate. Really understanding how hybrid working works at every single level. So, at all of your levels, your non-managers versus your managers, what everybody needs from the work environment in terms of training, in terms of development, in terms of maintaining culture is going to be key. Because I think at every single level people need different things and I think also, with Gen Z and younger Millennials, and people maybe who have started in the workplace during Covid, really showing them what the benefit of the office is in terms of training, in terms of co-worker relationships.
I think there’s two key aspects. One is listening to the employees looking at a bespoke solution for your business in terms of what people need and then responding to that. The other part of it is understanding what the work environment, what the culture, is going to be going forward in the hybrid environment. What I’ve seen with some clients is wanting people to return back to the office, having not very strong reasons and rationale for why we need to be in an office that are not resonating at every single level within the employee environment. And I think realising that it’s actually things like that are here to stay and I think working with that with your workforce is going to be really key.
Lucy Lewis: Thank you so much for joining us, Penelope. It’s been really, really interesting and it’s great to have your take on the 2023 Trust Barometer.
About the Future of Work Hub
The Future of Work Hub is an award-winning initiative by Lewis Silkin combining curated leading-edge resources with insights and perspectives from HR professionals, prominent business leaders and thinkers, futurists, consultancies and commentators to support organisations to prepare and adapt to the changing world of work.
About Lewis Silkin
Lewis Silkin is an international law firm based in London, UK, that works with leading businesses helping them to protect and enhance their most important assets – their people, their ideas, and their future. We call it ‘Ideas. People. Possibilities’.
Our clients and our people are at the heart of our business, united by a passion for creativity, technology and innovation, and our ethos of Bravery and Kindness. We offer highly ranked, market-leading practice areas and a deep cross-firm market expertise in our chosen sectors. This means we can help our clients by combining first-class commercial thinking with innovative but pragmatic solutions and advice, both in the UK and internationally.