A post-pandemic need for trust

Worldwide, a trust deficit will need businesses to lead the way in restoring public hope in institutions.

A customer pumps gas at an Exxon gas station in Miami May 2.

Is trust in tatters? The pandemic, inflation, and climate change have shaken public confidence in the ability of governments to solve serious threats. Long stretches of social distancing and remote work have undermined trust between people – the recent trends following a longer decline. According to the United Nations, global faith in government peaked in 2006.

As the world emerges after the pandemic, however, a “trust recession” might possibly give way to a trust renaissance. That is because the common challenges of humanity are driving societies to rethink and reclaim the values around which they cohere. “Competence and integrity are the main ingredients for building trust,” wrote Ryan Wong, CEO of Canada-based Visier business consultancy, in a recent newsletter.

One place to look for trust-building is business. As Blackrock CEO Larry Fink noted, the pandemic “deepened the erosion of trust in traditional institutions and exacerbated polarization in many Western societies. ... Employees are increasingly looking to their employer as the most trusted, competent, and ethical source of information.”

That shift is reflected in growing demands among investors for greater transparency and social responsibility. Those factors motivated the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in March to propose new rules for disclosing climate-related impacts in corporate reports to shareholders. The bar of expectations is high. Even as the public turns to the private sector for societal leadership, this year’s Edelman survey on levels of trust found 52% of respondents worldwide said business was not doing enough to reverse climate change and 40% said business was falling short on fixing economic equality. As employees and investors reflect shifting public priorities toward environmental and social concerns, they are putting greater pressure on corporate leaders to balance the goal of higher share prices with nonfinancial objectives.

“Today business must be the stabilizing force, the institution delivering tangible action on wages, climate change, re-skilling and diversity,” wrote CEO Richard Edelman in an essay accompanying the annual survey. “As business steps up, we need to move from outrage to optimism, fear to confidence, insinuation to fact. We must create a system that once again works for all.”

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