Coinciding with the World Economic Forum conference in Davos, the 2018 Global Edelman Trust Barometer has been published. Now in its 18th year, this impressive research surveys 33,000 people across 28 countries to assess attitudes towards trust in leadership. This post summarises the global and UK trust barometer findings, together with identifying the implications for practising CEOs and business leaders. In assessing the headlines from the research, first the global picture is assessed, before drilling down into the specific UK and business-related conclusions.
The starkest finding at a global level is the collapse of trust in the US, which is occurring in tandem with a soaring level of trust in China. Despite its strong economic performance in 2017, trust in US institutions (NGOs, media, business and government) fell by an aggregate 37 points, the largest fall of any country in the survey. Meanwhile, China recorded an aggregate 27-point gain and is now the No.1 nation on the global trust barometer, closely followed by UAE, Indonesia and Singapore. In general, it is the western democracies that continue to struggle with historically low trust levels that have not shown any significant overall recovery from 2017.
A further global trend is the continuing loss of trust in the traditional media with only six nations recording a trust score of over 50%. Nearly seven in 10 respondents among the general population worry about fake news or false information being used as a weapon. Exacerbating this trend is the accompanying decline in trust in social media and search engines. Edelman comments that ‘people have retreated into self-curated information bubbles, where they read only that with which they agree, as if selecting their playlist for music.’
However, if there is a glimmer of light in the 2018 Edelman trust barometer findings it is that the public want to place their faith in business leaders to do what is right. The credibility of CEOs has seen a 7% rise with nearly two thirds saying that they want to see CEOs take the lead on policy change rather than waiting for government, whilst almost 7 in 10 respondents globally say that building trust is the No.1 priority for CEOs ahead of delivering high quality products and services. Brian Moynihan, CEO of Bank of America, captures this spirit well when he says, ‘Our job as CEOs now includes driving what we think is right. It’s not exactly political activism, but it is action on issues beyond business.’
Moving from the global figures to focus upon the UK trust barometer, the Edelman survey reveals that trust levels in the four major institutions (NGOs, media, government, business) remain at historically low levels in this country and the figures have not improved since 2017. With average trust levels of 39%, the UK ranks in the bottom five of the 28 nations surveyed, three points ahead of Russia which sits at the foot of the trust barometer. In the UK, almost half of people believe that government is the most broken of the four main institutions. It is also seen as the most corrupt and 40% believe it abuses its power more than any other pillar of society.
Trust in UK business has fallen 3% to 43%, the lowest level since 2012. The most commonly cited barriers to rebuilding trust in business are as follows :-
1. Top executives are overpaid relative to average workers (58%)
2. Businesses do not pay their fair share of tax (56%)
3. Businesses do not operate in a fair and transparent way (45%)
4. Corruption is commonly accepted (42%)
5. The average worker is mistreated or taken advantage of (42%)
As per the global figures, the UK public would like to see business take the lead with rebuilding trust with 60% believing that CEOs should initiate change rather than waiting for the regulator to impose it.
So there you have it. The results of the 2018 Edelman trust barometer are in and it is not an uplifting message. On the one hand, the UK can congratulate itself that it has not seen the startling falls in trust experienced by the US. On the other hand, all western economies are toiling in the wake of a confident, resurgent and highly trusted China. Business leaders have not taken the same battering as those in the media or government, yet UK trust levels in business remain stubbornly low, with the public urging CEOs to be proactive and make rebuilding trust their No.1 priority. In light of these figures, The Trusted Executive Foundation will redouble its efforts to inspire business leaders to step up to the trust-building challenge. We will continue to champion the role of ability, integrity and benevolence in business life. We will invite pioneer CEOs to commit their organisations to the journey of trust using our unique and scientifically verified nine habits model. The findings of the 2018 Edelman trust barometer remind us to keep the words of trust guru, Charles Green, at the forefront of our minds – ‘What the world needs right now are leaders who rely upon the power of trust rather than those who trust in power’.
Come and join us on the journey of trust!
[ First posted on