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The Most Trusted Institution: Your Business

It has officially been a year since the COVID-19 pandemic thrust the modern workplace into a tailspin. Overnight, employers were forced to reimagine their daily operations and reshape how they handle employee welfare and customer retention. While the pandemic created additional challenges for small businesses, there are notable points of improvement that were made in some businesses regarding employee/employer relationship during that time. These positive changes signified a huge shift in trust for the average employee. Edelman’s 2020 Trust Barometer, a study spanning 28 countries and over 33,000 respondents, noted that of the four institutions annually studied (business, government, NGOs, and media), business is the most trusted, with a 61% trust level globally. Three quarters of these respondents said that their employer specifically was highly trusted. Similarly, results showed that business is the only institution recognized as both ethical and competent.

These results are further echoed by a 2020 McKinsey and Co. study that surveyed over 800 US-based workers regarding their employee experience. The survey had some remarkable outcomes, most notably: employees noted that companies by and large did a good job of retaining the trust of their employees during COVID-19. Similarly, a 2019 MetLife study noted that the number one driver of happiness at work is employee trust in their company’s leadership. Together, these three studies give us a glimpse into the levels of trust some businesses have secured, why that trust is important, and what they are doing right to encourage that trust to grow. These findings can help us identify some ways companies did right by their employees in the past year, and what your small business can do to mimic those results. Below are three things to begin/continue doing as we anticipate entering a post-COVID workplace.


The McKinsey survey noted that 80% of respondents felt that their organization’s leadership took proactive action to protect their health and safety. Additionally, 78% of those surveyed indicated that they believed their organizations handled the COVID-19 pandemic appropriately. It is encouraging to see that many employees felt they were being taken care of during a pandemic that took all, employee and employer alike, by storm. Organizations that boast the trust of their employees do intentional research and secure resources that keep their employees feeling confident in workplace safety. It’s important to remember that regardless of the presence of COVID-19, employers should continue to take time and consider how they can improve the health and wellbeing of their workplace on a consistent basis.


Employees who have high levels of trust from their employees learned to approach employees with flexibility regarding days off, sick leave, childcare, and overall employee responsibility. The 2019 MetLife study indicated that employer flexibility and similar benefits are highly regarded by employees, noting that 58% of respondents remarked that nontraditional benefits would reduce their stress. Similarly, employers gaining high levels of trust from employees had to be aware of the specific financial challenges the pandemic brought on to their employees, even if they were not able to offer raises or supplemental income. The McKinsey survey results showed that organizations can secure 55% improvement in employee engagement by giving recognition to employees through non-monetary means. This shows that most employees were willing to adjust to the changing workplace if employers are responsive to their needs.


To continue some of the positive changes some businesses made during COVID-19, workplace leaders must be willing to continue the above practices, and additionally make a point to listen and communicate intentionally with their employees. COVID-19 enhanced the need for transparency between employees and employers. The McKinsey survey noted that 77% of employees felt that they had the necessary information communicated to them to plan and adjust their next steps as an employee in their workplace during the pandemic. The results showed that the most trusted businesses had leaders that stay “present, action oriented, and fully transparent” with their employees.

As we look toward the day when the challenges of COVID-19 are lessened, we can learn a lot from the growth that came from those challenges. Beginning to apply these workplace solutions to your small business, or strengthening your existing relationships through their continued practice, will encourage the trust of your employees and facilitate growth moving forward.

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