CanadianSME sat down with Josh Cobden, Executive Vice President, Proof Strategies, to discuss the 2023 Proof Strategies CanTrust Index – one of the largest annual studies of trust in Canada, which examines trust in leaders, sources of information, institutions and more. The results this year reveal that younger Canadians are less likely to trust business and business leaders, the economy and even people they meet, compared to older Canadians. Proof calls it the generational trust gap.
What is the “generational trust gap”?
Generational differences run through all our trust research. Younger Canadians, including millennials and Gen Z, are significantly less trusting of many parts of how Canada operates.
For example, when asked if most people can be trusted, just 39 per cent of Gen Zs and 45 per cent of millennials said yes, compared to 52 per cent of boomers and 76 per cent of Canadians aged 75 and older. Looking at aggregate trust in the core pillars that underpin society (which includes businesses, governments, NGOs, and media), trust remains flat at 35 per cent among millennials compared to boomers, at 45 per cent.
Do young people trust business leaders?
In general, trust in business leaders is low, but especially among younger adults. In 2023, only 25 percent of millennials trust large corporations to do the right thing. While small and medium sized businesses fared better, they are still only trusted by 38 per cent of millennials. Put another way, if you’re an SME, six out of ten young adults don’t trust you. Similarly, just 36 per cent of Gen Zs and 37 per cent of millennials trust their CEO or most senior boss compared to 48 per cent of boomers.
There are many possible reasons for this mistrust in business. Highly publicized corporate scandals, greed, unethical decisions, growing income disparity, and not enough diversity in the senior ranks are fueling “the three D’s” among young people: they’re disappointed, disillusioned, and desperate for progress. Now add the possibility of a looming, deep recession, and you can add in a fourth D: despair. All of this erodes trust in business leaders who younger workers expect to make things better.
So, what can companies do to build trust with young Canadians?
To start with, representation matters.
There’s still a dismally poor representation of gender and diversity at the highest decision-making levels of society, including business. Young people want role models from whom they can learn, but also that reflect themselves and their experiences. When asked about what makes a brand more trustworthy, 56 per cent of millennials said that diversity and inclusion policies do, compared to 44 per cent of seniors. So, if you run a business, ask yourself whether you can do more to diversify your workforce, create upward mobility for disadvantaged groups and market the business in an inclusive way. Arguably, taking these steps should be easier in smaller businesses with less bureaucracy.
Environmental sustainability and social impact also matter – but in this case, not just among young adults. Sixty-one per cent of Gen Zs and 62 per cent of boomers are more likely to trust companies that commit to environmental sustainability. Similarly, 56 per cent of both millennials and boomers are more likely to trust brands that support charitable causes. Both areas present an opportunity to build trust simultaneously with two age cohorts. For SME’s, small changes can have big impact – especially when you involve your employees and customers.
What about the importance of speaking out on social issues?
This is a big one. Around the world, a lively discussion is occurring about whether CEOs should speak out and take a stand on matters such as diversity and inclusion and climate change. This isn’t what most entrepreneurs or business leaders signed up for, but younger Canadians want and expect the business community to show up and speak up. When asked if business leaders have an obligation to speak out about issues affecting their community, 61 per cent of Gen Zs said that they should do so regularly. Additionally, 57 per cent are more likely to trust a company that advocates for positive social change, compared to 46 per cent of older adults. This doesn’t mean hollering from the rooftops on every issue. But it does mean business leaders need to know where their key audiences stand on any given issue and proceed accordingly.
Canada has a long way to go when it comes to building trust among youth. When our future workforce and eventual leaders have trust issues, we should be concerned.
But there’s hope: what we know is that trust can be built by demonstrating ethics, transparency, and community involvement. Leaders who understand their audiences, communicate their values, and ground their decisions on these values can get us there.
Learn more about the 2023 Proof Strategies CanTrust index at www.cantrustindex.ca.