Most workers think AI will affect their jobs: Get the latest from Data Lab.

MainStreet Macro: The trust factor

January 08, 2024

Share this

The annual World Economic Forum gathering in the mountainside retreat of Davos, Switzerland, is commonly described with a single word: Elite. But this year, Davos is attempting to draw attention to a new descriptor: Trust.

The theme of this month’s Davos meeting, which begins Jan. 15, is rebuilding trust. The gathering will take place as the world confronts new and significant challenges and opportunities.

At ADP, we’ve been measuring trust in the workplace on a global scale for nearly a decade. In surveys of nearly 500,000 workers in 29 countries, respondents have shared their feelings about trust in the workplace, specifically as it relates to their jobs, their colleagues, their employers, their pay, and their leaders.

Here’s what we learned by studying trust in the workplace on a global scale.

Trust can be measured

Drawing from a stratified random sample of individuals worldwide, we examined worker trust in leadership, and their feelings of belonging and recognition.

Workers were asked to respond to the following statements using a five-point scale, from strongly agree to strongly disagree.

  • I trust my team leader.
  • I completely trust my company’s senior leaders.
  • I have great confidence in my company’s future.
  • I know I will be recognized for excellent work.
  • In my work I am always challenged to grow.
  • In the last week, I have felt excited to work every day.
  • I see myself represented in the leadership of my organization.
  • I believe my company promotes people based on the work they do, not what they look like.
  • When I share my opinion, I feel heard.

Taken together, the responses to these questions can be a powerful tool for leaders in civil society, government, and business to assess trust on within their organizations.

Trust ignites productivity

Our research shows that people who trust their employers are nearly three times more likely to report being highly productive at work. Moreover, this measure of trust correlates with workers who demonstrate high level of motivation and commitment towards their companies.

These ties between trust, loyalty, and productivity are so strong that we gave the relationship a name: The Employee Motivation and Commitment (EMC) score.

Employees are energized when trust is high, leading them to be both motivated by their work and committed to their employer. When trust is low, motivation and commitment fade, and more workers report an intent to leave their jobs.

Trust varies by country and over time

Trust can be buffeted by macro factors such as economic downturns, geopolitical conflicts, elections, and changing laws.

Our EMC metric reveals global differences in trust in the workplace. When our survey was fielded in June 2023, India, Brazil, and Mexico had the largest share of workers with high motivation and commitment.

The United States fell roughly in the middle of the pack, alongside the Netherlands and Canada. Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea had the smallest share of workers reporting low trust levels.

India, China, and Brazil saw the biggest jumps in trust relative to the previous year. Israel, Japan and the United Arab Emirates showed the biggest declines.

Trust can be nurtured

Trust is a word often missing in our discussions of the global economy, especially in connection with the global elite and quaint mountainside retreats.

But a decade of studying trust in the workplace across the world shows that trust and belonging go hand in hand. Our survey instrument captures not only worker trust in leaders; it also shows how leaders value and trust their workers and constituents. Inclusion is the means by which trust is built – and rebuilt.

Whether at the world’s largest stage for international business or in small locales around the world, we know that if trust can be measured, it can be nurtured, strengthening company bottom lines and societal well-being.