Trust in government and media has been declining for the past twenty years. Conversely, trust in employers is at an all time high. This situation has created opportunities for employers to have a larger voice and to become a trusted source of information for employees and other audiences.
Two decades of wars, a major economic disruption, bitter partisanship and a fragmented media landscape have eroded public trust in both government and the news media.
Both 9/11 and the Great Recession were cast as governmental failures to know, understand, regulate, prevent or warn the people about these catastrophes. Fairly or not, political parties have used these serious disruptions (along with more trivial issues) to relentlessly attack the other party’s governance. All of this has caused Americans’ trust in government to fall to historic lows.
The news media is also suffering from very low trust metrics. Many factors are dragging their trust numbers down.
- Media fragmentation has replaced a single news narrative with a diversity of voices, sources and opinions.
- Partisan-focused news outlets like MSNBC , CNN and Fox News mix commentary and news.
- News as entertainment has blurred the lines between the trivial and serious.
- “Fake News,” encompassing everything from made up stories to media bias to foreign intervention, is undermining all media.
It has become increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for news consumers to know if the stories they’re getting should be trusted.
Standing in relief to this decline, people’s trust in their employer is rising to unprecedented levels. This is fueled by a general hunger for reliable information and trustworthy institutions and by a shift in the role employers are playing in employees’ lives.
The employer/employee relationship is established and well understood as both interdependent and mutually beneficial. Employees know that their company views them as a human resource, but they also understand that their company places a high value on that resource.
New approaches to Human Resources, especially benefits administration, have turned employers into information repositories on key issues like:
- Healthcare consumerism
- Financial planning
The information companies provide is accurate and balanced because legal and fiduciary responsibilities lead to careful vetting of all information. Reliable, non-biased information is what the public is craving and what employers are increasingly providing.
Opportunities and Responsibilities
This convergence creates opportunities to build on this moment of trust. Employers willing to fill this trust gap can gain a competitive advantage. But this is not a trivial exercise; becoming a trusted source of information is not only an opportunity, it is also a responsibility.
Provide Clarity. By providing useful, vetted information, employers create real value and comfort for their employees.
Consider the current Novel Coronavirus outbreak. The spread of this disease is real and will likely affect workers in the U.S. over the next two years. However, news surrounding this outbreak is often sensationalized and the issue is being politicized in an election year. This serious issue needs clarity.
This article from SHRM (Society for Human Resource Managers) is a good example of sharing relevant information. It encapsulates the issue and provides links to many sources of (presumably vetted) information.
Information like this is fairly easy to assemble and incredibly useful. Employees are provided with reliable information that goes far beyond what they would get from the evening news and that would be difficult to gather on their own. Employees are empowered and prepared because they are informed.
Create dedicated channels. Employees need to know where to go for information. Depending on employee populations and budgets, information channels can range from printed newsletters to email distributions to dedicated websites to mobile apps. The type of channel isn’t as critical as accessibility and consistency.
Keep the channel clean and flowing. Avoid the temptation to use the channel for other messaging. A dedicated channel is more effective and more likely to be read than one that becomes a hodgepodge of unrelated messages.
Information must be current and archives need to be maintained. It’s critical to use your dedicated channel frequently. It isn’t necessary to create daily content, but at least once a week will keep the channel relevant.
Facilitate peer networks. One of the reasons employees trust employers is that they are both working on the same team. Information flows should mirror that sense of community and cooperation.
ESM (Enterprise Social Media) is an excellent platform for employees to interact around the information provided by the company. Having a voice encourages engagement and adoption of critical ideas.
Many employers have concerns about social media within work environments. They worry about divisive voices, discontent and other negatives. Facilitating social media interactions around specific information can mitigate these concerns.
Peer-to-peer communication around specific articles and channels can be easily and effectively managed. The information at hand guides the discussion, not the whims of users. Conversations on serious platform around important information will naturally be more focused than anonymous public social media. Within a company’s intranet, these platforms can also be managed more energetically.
The upside is really high. Users who engage with content are typically more informed than those who don’t. These users become partners with your content. They help to explain, curate and promote understanding on social networks. Social media influencers make information dynamic through their advocacy. Look for these people and encourage them.
Avoid bad information. Carefully curate and vet any information your company disseminates. You won’t have a story about everything, and that’s ok. Your content flow won’t have the punch of mass media, and that’s a good thing.
The aim is confidence. Provide information that is reliable, well sourced and actionable. This is more important than timeliness, entertainment or sensation (all hallmarks of today’s news media). The goal is providing a regular source of information for your specific audience.
Don’t overreach. Controversy and politics may sell newspapers, but they harm work environments. Avoid taking any political position that cannot be clearly and specifically be connected to the wellbeing of your industry, company or employee population.
There will be those inside and outside the organization who want to use your informational platform to sway employee opinion. These interests act for their own purposes, not necessarily the organization’s. Their goals are short term. To become a trusted resource, an employer must act responsibly and steadily over the long term.
Build on the Moment
That employers have become a trusted institution is surprising until you look at the reason behind the rise. Employers are more and more an important information source for their employees. Those who understand where we are and who become intentional in their approach can build on this moment to form lasting partnerships with their employees.More Ideas