How Comms pros use the Edelman Trust Barometer

I’ve been blogging about the Edelman Trust Barometer for years. Like many IC pros, I invest time reading through the research every year and thinking through what it means for my role and the people I work with.

This year’s study is hot off the press and, as ever, it’s worth reading.

Trust is a constant conversation in our organisations. As Comms practitioners, we look for ways to enhance trust, nurture it, demonstrate it and turn the notion of trust into tangible actions.

I invited people in my network to share how they use the annual study of trust in their work. Thank you to everyone who answered me via Twitter, I’ve collated your thoughts in this article.

This year’s results make sobering reading and the highlights for you to be aware of include content around localised trust, the role of CEOs and what employees expect.

What do this year’s results show?
The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals that despite a strong global economy and near full employment, none of the four societal institutions that the study measures – government, business, NGOs and media – is trusted. The cause of this paradox can be found in people’s fears about the future and their role in it, which are a wake-up call for our institutions to embrace a new way of effectively building trust: balancing competence with ethical behaviour.

Since Edelman began measuring trust 20 years ago, it has been spurred by economic growth. This continues in Asia and the Middle East, but not in developed markets, where income inequality is now the more important factor.

A majority of respondents in every developed market do not believe they will be better off in five years’ time, and more than half of respondents globally believe that capitalism in its current form is now doing more harm than good in the world.

The result is a world of two different trust realities. The informed public – wealthier, more educated, and frequent consumers of news – remain far more trusting of every institution than the mass population. In a majority of markets, less than half of the mass population trust their institutions to do what is right. There are now a record eight markets showing all-time-high gaps between the two audiences – an alarming trust inequality.

Some of the findings that stood out for me against the backdrop of growing cynicism around capitalism and the fairness of our current economic systems are deep-seated fears about the future.

Specifically, 83 percent of employees say they fear losing their job, attributing it to the gig economy, a looming recession, a lack of skills, cheaper foreign competitors, immigrants who will work for less, automation, or jobs being moved to other countries.

These issues will require higher levels of cooperation among our institutions; no single entity can take on these complex challenges alone. But only about one-third of people believe that business does a good job of partnering with NGOs or government.

What do you think? Does this resonate with you?

Edelman state business must take the lead on solving the trust paradox because it has the greatest freedom to act. Its immediate mandates are clear. An overwhelming number of respondents believe that it is the duty of business to pay decent wages (83 percent) and provide retraining for workers whose jobs are threatened by automation (79 percent). Yet less than a third of people trust that business will do these.

Institutions were cited as being unfair, the results make damning reading in this regard. The following reasons were given as a reason to trust or distrust each institution and were broken down into being purpose-drive, honest, has vision and fair.

How would you organisation rank for these factors?

Trust: competence and ethics
People today grant their trust based on two distinct attributes: competence (delivering on promises) and ethical behaviour (doing the right thing and working to improve society). This year’s Trust Barometer reveals that none of the four institutions is seen as both competent and ethical.

Business ranks highest in competence, holding a massive 54-point edge over government as an institution that is good at what it does (64 percent vs. 10 percent). NGOs lead on ethical behavior over government (a 31-point gap) and business (a 25-point gap). Government and media are perceived as both incompetent and unethical.

Trust is undeniably linked to doing what is right. After tracking 40 global companies over the past year through the Edelman Trust Management framework, Edelman state they’ve learned that ethical drivers such as integrity, dependability and purpose drive 76 percent of the trust capital of business, while competence accounts for only 24 percent.

Partnership: an opportunity to build trust
This year’s Edelman Trust Barometer respondents were asked to rank how well each institution is doing on a long list of issues that are challenging society. The most consistently low score for NGOs, business and government is on partnership, with each institution not seen as a good partner to the others.

Retraining for jobs is a critical issue that will require partnership between business and government. More than four in 10 say they trust business the most to solve this problem, but it can’t solve it without the help of government.

On this issue and others, collaboration is a major opportunity for our institutions to advance society – and build trust..

I found the future of work findings particularly interesting. These are the reasons people gave when asked about the fear of losing their job. The causes that were cited included freelance/gig economy, looming recession and lack of training/skills. You can see the full results below. Do you agree with this list?

What’s missing? If your employees fear these things, how can you overcome them, reassure your workforce or communicate difficult decisions that are in fact triggered by these issues?

Unsurprisingly, fake news featured in this year’s findings when framed in terms of quality information:

Last year’s theme focused on My Employer, this was one of the key results from the 2018 Barometer. This year that went a step further, with topics cites as being ones “my employer’s” CEO should speak out on. Does your CEO do this?

I’m not surprised by the results here. We know how important employee voice is and look for ways to create opportunities for two-way conversations and engagement within our organisation. That’s at the core of being a Comms practitioner in today’s world. Employee expect to be heard and we expect them to speak. In my experience, what’s often missing is the ability to listen well and take their views seriously.

I’ve seen so many companies dismiss feedback when it comes from employees, which is dreadful. You can’t fake this. You need to actively listen to employees and commit to take their views seriously and do something with them. E.g. running employee surveys then burying the results, or choosing to omit the awful results from your reporting are clearly less than ideal!

How Comms pros use the Edelman Trust Barometer

Comms pro Martin Flegg got in touch with me to volunteer his throughts on this year’s Barometer results, thank you Martin. He said: “I’ve read the annual Edelman Trust Barometer results with interest for the last few years. I think they provide IC professionals with some useful contextual insights to shape how we practice in organisations which go beyond the usual industry specific reports. The measures relating to business are particularly relevant and this years findings that trust in institutions has two main drivers of competence and ethics has some implications for us.

“Whilst businesses, and by definition employers, are seen to be the most competent, the ethical credentials of business need improvement. IC professionals can make a contribution here, by helping organisations properly explain to their workforces what, their purpose is, what they stand for and how employees can change behaviours to contribute to CSR objectives. The latter has certainly been high on the agenda for all the organisations I’ve worked with recently.”

I wanted to know what other IC practitioners think of the Barometer and how they use it. I Tweeted the following @AllthingsIC


Thank you to everyone who sent me their thoughts, I’ve collated them below.

You can find the research online, on Twitter @EdelmanPR and #TrustBarometer. I hope you’ve found this summary useful to help you think through trust and get to grips with the latest findings.

Further reading about Trust on the All Things IC blog:

As ever, I welcome your views. Feel free to Tweet me @AllthingsIC or comment below.

Learn about internal communication with Rachel 

Dates for my upcoming 2020 Masterclasses at the new All Things IC Hub are now live.

Dates to choose from…

Thank you for stopping by




  1. […] Further reading: Edelman Trust Barometer. […]

Submit a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

How can we help?

All Things IC helps practitioners around the globe increase their knowledge of internal communication.

There’s a variety of ways we can support you including trainingconsultancy and 1-2-1 support to boost your skills and confidence.

Or visit the shop to see everything we offer.

Who has hired All Things IC?

Clients say working with All Things IC leaves them feeling inspired, motivated, full of ideas and ready to turn plans into action.

We’re proud to have been invited to work with, and advise, some of the world’s leading brands.

Get in touch...

Would you like to work with All Things IC? Do get in touch below. Please note we only accept guest post ideas from in-house IC pros who have read the blogging guidelines.

Asking for advertising, back links or pitching services? We do not offer these and will not reply. Thank you.