The pandemic has boosted Australians’ trust in government — and made us scared to quit

By David Donaldson

Friday February 19, 2021


The pandemic has brought many social shifts, one of which is a massive boost in Australians’ trust in government.

So impressed have Australians been with the response to the pandemic that trust is at record highs for all the major institutions — including government, media, business and NGOs — according to the Edelman Trust Barometer.

Notably, government saw the highest jump — +17 points on the Trust Index, compared to +11 for business, +12 for media, and +8 for NGOs. Business is, however, the most trusted institution, sitting just ahead of government.

Of the 28 countries surveyed during October and November 2020, Australia saw the largest jump in overall trust levels. It also has the highest gap in trust between its more-trusting ‘informed public’ — wealthier, more educated people who consume more news — and the mass public.

Government is also seen as much more competent and ethical by the 1150 Australian respondents in this year’s survey than last year’s, though it still sits a long way behind business.

At the individual level, scientists were seen as the institutional leaders most likely to do what’s right, followed by ‘people in my local community’, ‘my employer CEO’, then government leaders and journalists. CEOs and religious leaders ranked lowest.

Business enjoying higher trust

Increased in trust in business is an unexpected development of the coronavirus.

“As the world transformed in response to the pandemic, Australians more than ever turned to their employers for guidance, reassurance and information they can trust,” explains Michelle
Hutton, CEO Australia and Vice Chair of Asia Pacific, Edelman.

“The workplace-home divide has been broken down, and employers have embraced a new role in their employee’s lives. In an environment that demanded empathy and transparency, a strong bond of trust has resulted between organisations and their people.”

The increased trust in employers is accompanied by an expectation they will act in the public interest — 66% agree that CEOs should step in when government does not fix societal problems, 72% believe CEOs should take the lead on change rather than waiting for government to impose change on them, and 78% think CEOs should hold themselves accountable to the public and not just to the board of directors or stockholders.

Respondents say they now place a higher priority on workplace safety than one year ago, and 59% of those currently in work agree that ‘I am more likely now than a year ago to voice my objections to management or engage in workplace protest’.

All industry sectors — other than technology — saw increases in trust, with healthcare, manufacturing and education receiving the highest scores.

Shifting priorities

Improving our healthcare system ranked as the issue most Australians said had increased in importance for them over the past year, followed by addressing poverty, finding ways to combat fake news, and protecting people’s individual freedoms.

Respondents said the personal concern that had increased most was ‘prioritising my family and their needs’, followed by being politically aware, ‘increasing my media and information literacy’, and ‘increasing my science literacy’.

Real news and fake news

Australians say government is the source they are most likely to believe after seeing a piece of information only once or twice, followed by their employer, then the media. Social media ranked lowest on this measure.

Social media is seen as the least trustworthy source of information, and traditional media the most — though social media’s score increased significantly this year and the media’s fell slightly. 64% of Australians believe journalists purposely mislead, and 68% say most organisations are more concerned with supporting an ideology or political position than informing the public.

Worried about losing work

The Edelman data also show the challenges currently facing Australians, with 63% of respondents saying their employer had laid off or furloughed staff due to the pandemic, while 54% were worried the pandemic would accelerate the replacement of human workers with AI or robots.

Interestingly, job loss and climate change both ranked higher in the concerns of Australians than the coronavirus itself — perhaps a sign of how well Australia has suppressed the disease. 86% of respondents said they were either fearful or concerned about losing their job, compared to 66% for climate change, 65% for hackers and cyber attacks, 57% for ‘losing my freedoms as a citizen’, and 54% for contracting Covid-19.

Scared to take a new job?

Many Australians are ‘sheltering’ in their current role, prioritising financial stability over career growth while waiting for the pandemic to blow over, according to research conducted by LinkedIn.

This problem is especially affecting millennials — roughly those in the 25-40 age bracket. 81% of millennials said they were sheltering in their current job, compared to 70% of gen Xers, 62% of baby boomers and 50% of gen Zers.

This raises concerns that those at the bottom of the career ladder may suffer long-term impacts from the pandemic upheaval — research shows that graduating in a recession leads to lower incomes and even poorer health outcomes.

Millennials were most likely to report financial concerns, and had the least confidence about increasing their income.  They also reported the least confidence in their skills and networks.

LinkedIn’s survey, conducted with 1825 respondents in January, also showed overall workforce confidence in Australia was unchanged from three months prior, though there was a fall in confidence among public administration employees, and a larger jump in confidence among healthcare staff.

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