We Are in a Trust Depression

By January 31, 2017Leadership

trust depressionThe Great Depression was an economic collapse that left people unemployed, unconfident, and uncertain. To recover, bold actions were taken, and it still took many years to gain strength again.

Today, we are experiencing a similar situation – a trust collapse. More than a collapse, we are in the Trust Depression. Workers and citizens have lost faith in organizations and leaders across the board and around the world. Returning trust to higher levels seems almost impossible.

Pockets of leaders are working to be a better example of trust within their businesses and communities. However, many are staying the course or just adding fuel to burn trust further.

Edelman Trust Barometer Results

The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer is wake-up call, but who is listening? We can surmise how we got here – short-term over long-term decisions, inaction on policy, political party over country, and growing inequity in richness and justice.

The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer is depressing. Some sample stats:

  • More than three-quarters of respondents among both informed and general populations agree that the system is biased against regular people and favors the rich and powerful
  • Close to half of the “informed public” – adults 25-64 with a college education, in the top 25 percent of income, and consume large amounts of media – have lost faith in the system
  • Only 37 percent of the general population now say CEOs are credible, and 29 percent say the same about government officials
  • 64 percent of the general population say they find leaked information more believable than press statements
  • 55 percent say individuals are more believable than institutions

The fall of trust is across institutions – government, business, media, and non-government organizations. Most disconcerting is the loss of faith in the system.

Adding to the trust depression, two stats reduce hope:

  • 53 percent do not regularly listen to people or organizations with whom they often disagree
  • Nearly 4X are more likely to ignore information that supports a position they do not believe in

We are closing our minds to diversity of thought. Ultimately, this impacts the diversity of solutions to overcome challenges and develop policies and programs that can restore trust to better levels.

How Do We Recover from the Trust Depression?

No easy answers exist. To recover from the Trust Depression, we need new mindsets, renewed actions, and more openness to diversity. The Edelman report highlights how we need a systematic change, shifting to a more people-centric model. Although this shift is essential, it will take great leadership by many.

Trust is not rebuilt by a few. Rebuilding trust begins with you and me.

Simple Actions to Embolden Trust

In 2017, we need to begin to restore trust by taking new actions.

Read articles by organizations and individuals offering an alternative view

We need to move beyond the magazines, websites, and news stations we always listen to or read. We need to weave in alternative views. We need a broader understanding to expand our view of how inactions, actions, policies, and programs affect others. We need to know how people think who do not hold the same perspective we do.

We need to read diversely to think diversely. We need to realize diversity strengthens, expands, and creates better solutions and plans.

Engage in social, political, and business conversations within your circles

Conversations are more than mouth-openers. Good conversations open minds.

  • Good conversations are challenging.
  • Good conversations are civil.
  • Good conversations prompt us to think more deeply.
  • Good conversations expand our perspective and mindset.

Don’t have safe conversations. Have conversations out of your comfort zone. What we don’t know will only hurt us when we don’t explore to expand our learning.

Social and political conversations need to happen. Our society is intertwined with government and business decisions, and we need to understand the connection points.

Create new circles to engage in social, political, and business conversations

Just as the conversations need to dislodge us from our comfortable thinking, talking, and listening, we need to create new circles. We need to engage people different from us and with people who are not close friends. We need to create new conversations circles.

Do good where you work, live, and play

We need to be the citizens of our community and workplace who do good works as often as possible. Restoring trust is not an idealistic endeavor. Restoring trust begins by leading with our better side and doing good works.

Good works can be simple.

  • Hold the door.
  • Say thank you.
  • Pay it forward with a gesture of kindness.
  • Help someone out without highlighting it on Facebook.

Do good works in areas unexpected. Help those who don’t receive help often.

Be the good example.

Save “walk away” money to lead change from within as long as possible

Build a safety net of 6 to 9 months. Build the safety net is to feel more empowered to lead change from within the systems you are a part of. With over 68 percent of employees disengaged or actively disengaged, trust cannot be rebuilt with 32 percent.

Workplaces need to change. Communities need to change. Accountability and responsibility go hand-in-hand, and individuals within organizations play a key role in both.

Change comes from within, and individuals need to step up to act upon the change needed to rebuild systems in a trust-centered way. Being a leader is defined by what actions you take. Sitting back and hoping others will lead the change is not leadership. Be the leader you were meant to be.

If change is impossible within your organization, then speak by walking away to a better place and continue to lead change.

Trust Begins with You

We cannot recover from the Trust Depression without everyone playing a role. We need systematic change, but we need people to change, too. Individuals need to take bold and simple actions to restore trust.

Too often, we believe change begins with someone else. We cannot afford to wait for someone else to change. Trust begins with us – you and me.

Are you ready to create a trust recovery? Are you ready to be a Trust Activist?



Jon Mertz
Jon Mertz is one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business and highlighted as one of the Leaders to Watch in 2015 by the American Management Association. He also is the author of Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders. Jon serves as vice president of marketing at Corepoint Health. Outside of his professional life, Jon brings together a community to inspire Millennial leaders and close the gap between two generations of leaders.
Jon Mertz
Jon Mertz

Latest posts by Jon Mertz (see all)

Join the discussion 8 Comments

  • Csaba Bothe says:

    I agree that we are in trust depression and I believe it is most likely caused by many leaders (politicians, managers, etc.) who do not follow the old rule: Do what you say, say what you do! Just think about the tons of globalized, centralized, heavily micromanaged companies and you must agree that the culture of these companies teach managers: Do what you are told, say what you are told. We can see the same attitude in politics (or it is even worse, as the rule for politicians is: Do what you are told, say what you are told; next day say and do the opposite, if your interest requires so). The result of this cannot be anything else just a trust crisis. Good to know that there are others who feel the same like us: we need to work on restoring trust. But be aware, we are not too many, so restoration won’t be easy and will take decades!

    • Jon Mertz says:

      I agree, Csaba. I believe the old structures are cratering trust. We need to start anew in our thinking and actions. My post today talks about how we need to distrust in order recover trust, and much of it has to do with questioning our status quo, our leadership skills, etc. We need leaders to step up to ignite a trust renewal. Thank you for your perspective on this topic. Jon

  • Randy Conley says:

    You are spot on, Jon. You offer excellent suggestions for how people can proactively build trust. To reiterate the importance of your last point – Trust begins with each one of us individually. Trust inherently involves risk. We risk making ourselves vulnerable to the actions of another, but we can’t have trust without it. Someone has to make the first move by extending trust to others and so I advocate that each of us should take that mantle of leadership and start a trust revolution by #1 being trustworthy, and #2, extending trust to others. As you said, we have to be open to other people, ideas, and ways of doing things if we’re ever going to raise the level of trust in culture in society.

    I appreciate you being a fellow trust activist. Keep spreading the message.


    • Jon Mertz says:

      Thank you, Randy! Restoring trust begins with you and me, making changes to how we listen, engage in differing perspectives, and beginning to understand how we can find a place to begin anew. We need to strengthen our resolve to be open. We need to begin now.

      Appreciate your leadership in trust and encouraging all of us to be trustworthy and trust activists. Jon

  • Alli Polin says:

    Love how you encourage us to do good where we are. Sharing every good deed on FB seems a lot less altruistic than I hope most people truly are.

    Also, I have been obsessing over the same three or four websites for my news. Thanks for the reminder that alternate viewpoints and sources combined with the tried and true is what often tells the full story.

    Count me in to join the charge as a trust activist. Without trust… well, I think we all know what happens.


    • Jon Mertz says:


      I knew I could count on you as a Trust Activist! We need to act on the change we want to see, and trust is a needed place to begin. Thank you for your continued support in acting on the change you want to see in a trust-filled way!


  • I love this Jon! So many small things we can do that will ripple out and defy the tide that is taking us in the wrong direction.
    The other day I was walking through a neighbourhood for the first time and people took time to smile and say hello, even when they weren’t in my path. Small gestures like this ground you to a place, make you feel you belong. This is important!

    I’m ready to be a trust activist.

    • Jon Mertz says:


      You are setting a great example! Stopping and getting to know the people around us is a perfect way to restore trust. We need more examples like this. Thank you.


Leave a Reply