The 2014 Edelman Trust Barometer, a survey of 33,000 people in 27 nations, shows the largest ever gap between trust in business and government since the first study in 2001. In a few nations, the divide is as much as 40 points, and in nearly half of them—including the United States—the gap is more than 20 points. Trust in business has been growing since 2008 while trust in government has been on the decline since 2011.
This report is instructive for business and government. Business can continue to build trust with the public by engaging in debates that have a societal impact but aren’t all about the bottom line. The Edelman survey shows that 84% of respondents believe that business can pursue its self-interest while doing good work for society. This is, according to Richard Edelman, “the license to lead, beyond the legal construct of license to operate, toward a new role of initiating change.”
Where is business doing good by doing well? Education is an example. A lot of business leaders have become forceful advocates for an overhaul to the U.S. education system, which is one of the most pressing priorities our nation faces.
Of course businesses need well qualified and educated workers if they are to succeed. But the issue is even bigger than that. It’s about reducing poverty and giving people the skills they need to lead productive lives and support their families. It’s about keeping the promise of the American Dream alive for future generations. It’s about ensuring that America can compete in a global economy and remain the greatest place in the world to live, work, and do business.
In the same vein, many businesses participate in the Chamber’s Hiring Our Heroes program, which matches veterans and military spouses with good jobs. Yes, it’s good to reward their service by hiring them. But veterans also happen to have unique skills and experience that is very valuable in the workforce—so it’s a good business move too. It’s a win-win.
The Edelman report also gives government the opportunity to take a hard look at what’s working and what’s not and make needed changes. Obviously, public trust is going to fall when the administration or lawmakers don’t respond to public sentiment. In addition, there is growing recognition that a government that tries to do everything is not going to do it any of it very well.
The report also underscores the need for business and government to work together for the good of the nation. People want government to be a partner to business – not dictate to it. In fact, 79% of Edelman survey respondents believe that business should be involved in formulating regulation in such industries as energy and food, and a majority feels that government cannot go it alone.
Our system only works when business and government understand their own role, work in good faith, and strive to make life better for all citizens. When they veer from these principles, public trust goes down, citizens get discouraged, cynicism grows, and trust falls. That’s the bottom line of Edleman’s important study, and one both business and government would do well to heed.