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An Edelman perspective on making meaningful employee connections that deepen engagement, build trust and accelerate business performance.

MAY 2013



In the days before social media, how a company acted within its four walls mattered most to the people who worked there. The rest of the world cared primarily about a business’s performance, not necessarily how it achieved those results. Those days are, of course, history. In today’s age of radical transparency, organizational values, integrity and ethical standards matter to virtually everyone a company counts as a stakeholder, from investors to customers to regulators. And as the results from Edelman’s 2013 Trust Barometer illustrate, companies aren’t living up to these expectations.

companies aren’t living up to these expectations. Perceptions of fraud, misaligned incentives, negative

Perceptions of fraud, misaligned incentives, negative workplace environments and a lack of transparency are fueling a crisis of leadership: a deep distrust of business and executives. While this year’s data doesn’t point to a singular “aha” for employee engagement, it does reveal several relevant trends and implications for rebuilding executives’ internal credibility, reflecting employees’ input in business decisions, reinforcing ethical behavior at every level and tapping employee ambassadors to talk about what their companies are doing in each of these areas:


Employees are among the most trusted spokespeople on a variety of topics. Echoing a trend established in previous years, rank-and-file workers especially those with technical expertise are more trusted than chief executives. Furthermore, this year Edelman’s Trust Barometer also measured the degree to which credibility varies when talking about different topics, and employees are by far the trusted authority on a company’s culture, programs, integrity, working conditions and related issues. While this is intuitive, it is interesting that employees are also more credible than media spokespeople on every topic examined, even financial performance and serving customers. CEOs are most credible when discussing financial performance, while employees and chief executives are equally trusted on the subject of innovation.

Whom executives and employees trust as spokespeople






Technical expert

Academic or expert

Person like yourself

Financial/Industry analyst


NGO representative

Regular employee

Government official

CEO NGO representative Regular employee Government official 56% 58% 50% 57% 55% 42% 49% 55% 50%
CEO NGO representative Regular employee Government official 56% 58% 50% 57% 55% 42% 49% 55% 50%



representative Regular employee Government official 56% 58% 50% 57% 55% 42% 49% 55% 50% 44% 32%




Regular employee Government official 56% 58% 50% 57% 55% 42% 49% 55% 50% 44% 32% Executives


Regular employee Government official 56% 58% 50% 57% 55% 42% 49% 55% 50% 44% 32% Executives



employee Government official 56% 58% 50% 57% 55% 42% 49% 55% 50% 44% 32% Executives Employees
employee Government official 56% 58% 50% 57% 55% 42% 49% 55% 50% 44% 32% Executives Employees




Executivesofficial 56% 58% 50% 57% 55% 42% 49% 55% 50% 44% 32% Employees Regular employees are

Employees56% 58% 50% 57% 55% 42% 49% 55% 50% 44% 32% Executives Regular employees are far

Regular employees are far more skeptical than executives across the board. Those in top leadership positions were 15 percent more likely to trust the CEO than those without offices in the executive wing (see chart at left.) Curiously, this greater level of trust extends beyond the C-suite: Executives also trust regular employees more than employees themselves do (55 versus 50 percent.) Rank-and-file workers may be more disillusioned and thus cynical toward leaders, having borne the brunt of layoffs, benefits reductions and pay freezes. However, executives and employees do agree on at least one point: Both rank technical experts within a company as the number-one most credible source of


 “Treating employees well” is a higher priority for rank -and-file employees than for executives:

“Treating employees well” is a higher priority for rank-and-file employees than for executives: Out of 16 attributes that build trust in a company, executives ranked “treating employees well” fifth in importance, while regular employees put it third, close behind offering quality products and listening to customers.

Executives and employees blame different issues for their distrust in business, but culture is at the heart of the problem. Leaders point to a lack of transparent communication, while regular employees fault companies for driving behavior with the wrong incentives. This may be a commentary on perceptions that leaders are rewarded for less-than-ethical decision- making that puts profit ahead of all else. Both groups cite corruption and fraud as key issues, illustrating the need to reinforce an organizational culture rooted in compliance, ethics and integrity.

Employees’ geographic location influences their trust in leaders. Global companies, take note: Employees in emerging markets tend to be more optimistic and trusting of executives than those in developed ones. This illustrates how important it is to develop a strong global communications network, with in-market communicators and leaders who can tailor corporate messages to resonate with local staff. What strikes a chord with enthusiastic Argentinians may not fly with more cynical Brits.


These findings can serve as a powerful call to action for leaders and communicators looking to restore or reaffirm trust and integrity within an organization. Here are three steps to start:

1. Encourage a culture of inclusive management. The decline in CEO credibility means one person can no longer effectively drive business performance. A more effective approach is to embrace this new reality and invite a variety of voices to the decision-making table… and actively listen to them. This can take a variety of forms, from allowing employees to vote on decisions that affect them (such as which benefits to keep) to regularly monitoring sentiment on external job-rating sites to using an online discussion platform such as Yammer as a kind of ongoing focus group. The key, of course, is that management must be willing to change direction when feedback warrants it. Shifting from dictating to co-creating has the potential to improve both business performance and relationships with employees up, down and across the organization.

2. Use storytelling to illustrate integrity in action. There’s a reason why storytelling is a perennial hot topic at many Fortune 500 companies: Leaders are far more compelling and believable when they illustrate key messages with stories from their own experience instead of reciting talking points. Communicators should coach executives to mine their lives for memorable anecdotes that demonstrate what company values, ethics and integrity mean to them, supported by a strong, overarching corporate narrative. Stories reinforce ethical behaviors by illustrating them with relatable, everyday examples without coming across as a lecture on compliance. Moreover, authentic storytelling is especially important given today’s crisis of leadership, as executives can build credibility and trust when speaking directly from their own personal experiences.

For more information, please contact Edelman Employee Engagement at

Prompts to help leaders develop stories:

Talk about a situation where you were faced with a difficult decision and used your values to make a choice.

Describe a time your parents taught you the meaning of an important value.

Tell us about one of your role models and something specific they did to earn your respect.


3. Leverage employee ambassadors strategically in areas where they have the most credibility. Launching a

3. Leverage employee ambassadors strategically in areas where they have the most credibility. Launching a new product? Need to improve corporate reputation? Trying to get people excited about the latest internal initiative? Ambassador programs have become a tactic of choice for every conceivable type of communication program. While employees can indeed serve as strong company or brand advocates, it makes sense to tap them as spokespeople on topics where they have the greatest credibility, notably company employee programs, benefits, culture and working conditions. For example, many organizations leverage current employees in recruiting communications and enlist volunteers to interact with candidates via the company’s digital and social channels. Similarly, CEOs and internal technical experts have equal credibility when it comes to talking about company innovation efforts, so consider showcasing the “people behind the products” for new product development and launch storylines.


Integrity matters - not just to the people who work at a given company but to consumers, investors, elected officials and other influencers. An organization’s ethical standards (or lack thereof) come largely from its leaders, who set the tone for acceptable behavior with their words and actions. Executives can simultaneously model integrity and strengthen relationships with employees by incorporating their feedback into decisions; leaders can also reinforce ethical behavior by illustrating it with examples from their own lives. And employees can serve as authentic storytellers on a company’s inner workings, including its culture, ethical standards innovative mindset and overall environment.


Edelman’s Employee Engagement Practice helps organizations accelerate business performance, delivered by highly engaged and trusted employees. We do this by making meaningful, trust-building connections connecting employees with the company, connecting employees with each other, and connecting employees with the outside world. We have a global network of employee engagement specialists who can develop engagement strategy; deploy the tools and processes to deliver it; create the multimedia channels and content that support it; and design the insight mechanisms to measure it.

Complete information about the 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer is available at Specific data sets by industry and geography are available upon request.

For more information, please contact Edelman Employee Engagement at