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People Want Businesses to Step Up

And companies that get this will win the future.

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Getty Images / Barometer on the wooden desk, 3D rendering
Getty Images / Barometer on the wooden desk, 3D rendering

The government may be shut down, but business isn’t. And even when — at this point, I should say if — an agreement is hammered out in Washington, the episode is likely to further erode people’s trust in the government to take on our most challenging issues. But as the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer shows, as people’s trust in institutions of all kinds has been eroding, their trust in their employers has gone up.

The survey represents a profound shift that’s taking place both in people’s relationships with their employers and in the increasing value — and even expectation — for corporations to engage with society and speak out about their values.

While almost half of the respondents feel like the system is failing them, 76 percent of employees say they want CEOs to “take the lead on change instead of waiting for government to impose it.” Worldwide, a nearly equal number — 75 percent — say they trust “my employer” to do the right thing, which is higher than even NGOs, at 57 percent.

And it’s not just that people are putting more trust in their employers to do what’s right, it’s also becoming an assumed built-in part of the job contract. As the report puts it, “employees’ expectation that prospective employers will join them in taking action on societal issues (67 percent) is nearly as high as their expectations of personal empowerment (74 percent) and job opportunity (80).”

And when those higher expectations are met, the employees reciprocate. The survey found that employees who trust their company are more loyal, more committed and more likely be to be advocates.

The report also notes that when these demands aren’t met, employees will take action themselves, as when 20,000 Google employees staged a walkout to protest how the company had handled sexual harassment issues.

As JUST Capital’s 2018 survey found, these expectations are true of businesses in general, and not just for one’s own employers. Nearly two-thirds of American workers believe CEOs “have a responsibility to take a stand on important social issues,” 76 percent said they’d take less money for a job at a more just company and 78 percent said they’d “taken action to show their support for a company’s positive behavior.”

And there are plenty of examples of companies responding. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff recently gave over $6 million to turn a shuttered hotel into housing for the homeless. And this came after he’d been a forceful advocate for a local referendum in San Francisco that would tax big companies to fund homeless programs. The measure passed with 60 percent of the vote. The next week, Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson announced the company was pledging $1 million for the homeless.

After the Parkland shooting last February, Dick’s Sporting Goods announced its decision to no longer sell assault-style weapons. And just this month, Gillette took on changing ideas of masculinity with a video called “We Believe.”

So yes, the government is shut down and that has real and terrible consequences. But the good news is that our expectation that businesses stand for something beyond just quarterly profits is growing. It’s also a great example of another one of Thrive’s core pillars – that our work lives aren’t separate from our home lives. We bring our whole selves to work, and we want our workplaces not just to use our talents but to reflect our values. And businesses that respond to these demands will be increasingly rewarded by employees and customers alike.

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