Distrust is society’s default emotion. Can companies lead the way to restore it?

CRS Trends  »  Social   »   Distrust is society’s default emotion. Can companies lead the way to restore it?

The 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer was recently published, and the revelations in the report are significantly worrying; nonetheless, there is also a speck of hope to be found in the opportunities that arise from adversity. 

Below we will examine the diverse findings and conclusions the report conveys, which at first glance appear to portray a cycle of distrust spreaded across all societal actors, from governments to media and businesses. Additionally we will explore the potential windows of opportunities that emerge from the current global trust (and distrust) scenario. 


What is the current state of societal trust?


The overall global framework is a cycle of growing distrust, primarily fueled by the uncertainty that the pandemic has brought to our lives in the last two years; although many other factors such as the lack of climate action have a significant impact, it is clear that the main element influencing most of our global endeavors today is the ongoing sanitary crisis. 

Here we have gathered some of the key findings of the report to portray the most accurate description of the current state of trust on the institutions that make up society and are fundamental to the functioning of our global economy. 


A decline in trust and a growing division


Distrust has become society’s default emotion, as people’s first reaction is to distrust that which they encounter until they have clear and trustworthy evidence of it. At first sight, this may seem like a natural reaction, however, it has created a vicious cycle where we are increasingly incapable of having constructive conversations and civil debates on topics we disagree upon. Cooperation and healthy debates are significantly affected by the decline in trust, even though they are an essential component of strong democracies and thriving societies. 

Governments and media seem to be the actors who fuel the most significant distrust levels; in fact, they are seen as rather polarizing forces in society, as journalists and government leaders have lost much of the trust they once had. The distrust in these two pillars of democracy have consequently affected the confidence in many other democratic institutions. 

Without trust in the efficiency and competence of democratic institutions, society’s fears are on the rise. The uncertainty fueled by the sanitary crisis and the decline of our environment make a vast part of society worry about job loss, climate change or the future well-being of their families, which outlook seems uncertain at best. 

On top of distrust, and most certainly a cause for such a lack of confidence, is the fake-news concerns that have skyrocketed in the last few years. Concerns seem to shift between being over and under informed or not having trustworthy and rigorous sources of information. The report shows that even major sources of information, including traditional media and social media, are very mildly trusted among the general public.


A window of opportunity for businesses


But not everything is lost quite yet. Although trust levels across society’s actros is rather low and worrying, businesses are once again the most trusted institutions, ahead of NGOs, governments and media. It is important to note, however, that a majority of respondents of the report emphasized trust in their employers. It seems that close or local relationships are the most important sources of trust in the corporate world. 

The decline in trust comes from the belief upon respondents that businesses are not doing enough to address and tackle current societal issues; among the most relevant problems people believe businesses should help change are climate change, economic inequalities, workforce reskilling and offering reliable information. The common denominator linking these concerns to each other is the fact that people want businesses to have a more active and engaging role in leading the way towards a just and sustainable future. 

As stated in the report, the role and expectation for business has never been clearer, and business must recognize that its societal role is here to stay

In this context, companies can find an opportunity and competitive advantage in putting societal leadership as a core function of their business activities. 60% of employees, and 80% of the general population, think it is significantly relevant when considering a job to have the CEO step up and speak out on societal issues and engage in public policy discussions with stakeholders to work on the benefits the company can offer society. Furthermore, CEOs are expected to lead the way and shape the conversation on jobs, wages, technology and even climate change, among other issues. 


Building trust


The report focuses on four key approaches to restoring trust, not only for business but for all societal institutions whose confidence downfall are severely detrimental to achieving the sustainability goals set up for the upcoming years. 

  • Businesses increasing role on society: As stated above, people expect more engagement from companies and corporations to help deal with current societal, environmental and economic problems. In fact, they are the main actors expected to take the lead on the necessary change. 
  • Tangible progress: Of course, given the lack of trust on information sources, progress should be measurable and traceable as well as transparent, showing the public that the system works and that confidence in it is key for improving and sophisticating the latter. 
  • Long term thinking: The long term approach has long been a decisive factor for corporate success, as short term gains are no guarantee of future survival. Furthermore, newly emerged regulations focus on long term solutions as the only possible approach. 
  • Trustworthy information: Very much related to the idea of tangibility, in the era of fake news and an over-informed society, fact-based information is fundamental to break the cycle of distrust that seems to drive society today. 


Engaging through transparency


In DoGood we believe you can’t manage what you don’t measure. This is why we actively work to pursue transparent and traceable information to be reported and help companies achieve a continuous improvement as well as a stronger relationship with stakeholders to help impact society and the planet in a positive way, helping revive trust and confidence. 

In this regard, it is essential to our work to promote good corporate governance, meaning that the processes of disclosure and transparency are followed so as to provide regulators and shareholders as well as the general public with precise and accurate information about the financial, operational and other aspects of the company, including a more accurate definition of the ESG performance.

We have developed a corporate government tool that helps establish ESG impact objectives for employees in regards to the sustainability strategy of the company. Through our SaaS technology we are able to activate and track employees’ impact, creating engagement that translates into improved ESG metrics, reputational value and an overall positive impact for the environment and society. 

If you want to know more about how we work to create a positive social and environmental impact, click here