Trust in CEOs of large corporations falls, again

Canadians now have greater trust in government, media and charities than corporate leaders, finds Proof Strategies.

Trust in the CEOs of Canada’s large corporations has taken another hit, falling to its lowest point in several years and below the levels of trust enjoyed by other institutions, including government, the media and non-profit organizations.

That’s according to a special September update to Proof Strategies’ annual CanTrust Index, conducted between Sept 3 and 5. The most recent survey, which follows a May 2020 update, is based on a representative sample of 1,000 Canadians across region, age and gender.

Trust in business leaders

In 2019, Canadians’ trust in CEOs and senior leaders dropped to its lowest point since Proof Strategies began conducting its annual survey, falling 10% over four years to 45%. At the time, CEOs were less trusted than mayors, but were considered more trustworthy than provincial premiers and the prime minister.

That is no longer the case, as trust in the CEOs of large corporations continues to fall. Trust in those leaders has dropped from 30% in May – already a low-point – to 26% in September.

The findings are fairly consistent across age groups, although 18- to 34-year-olds exhibited the highest levels of trust, at 27%, followed by 35- to 55-year-olds (26%) and by those 55 and older (24%). Declines in trust levels for large company CEOs was evident in all provinces other than Quebec, where it declined by only 1%.

Meanwhile, sentiment has moved the other way in recent months with respect to the leaders of small- and medium-sized businesses, many of which have been particularly hard-hit by pandemic restrictions. Between May and September, trust in those leaders grew from 45% to 50%, and was highest among the 55-plus population, at 53%.

Trust in bosses

At the same time, internal trust in the leaders of organizations is improving among Canadians employed full-time and is generally much higher than the trust placed in corporate CEOs, according to the survey.

In September, trust in one’s own boss grew to 55%, up from 51% in January and from 45% at the time of the 2019 CanTrust survey.

Trust was highest among those 55 and older, at 58%, and lowest among the 18-to-34-year-old demographic, at 52%. It was highest in the Atlantic region (62%), and lowest among employees in Alberta (51%). There was no discernible difference between men and women (both 55%).

“It appears CEOs or the most senior managers in workplaces are doing something right during this pandemic,” noted Bruce MacLellan, CEO of Proof Strategies, in a release accompanying the results. “Communicating regularly, showing empathy and connecting on shared values are important to building trust in a crisis.”

Trust in other institutions

Trust in the charitable and non-profit sector is also on the wane, falling 6% to 50% overall in September – marking a return to 2019 and January 2020 levels – after having climbed by 7% to 56% in May.

Trust is lower (42%) among people aged 55 and older, and among those living in Alberta, where only 37% trust in these institutions. There are other sharp contracts between demographics: for example, only 46% of men expressed trust in the sector, compared to 54% of women.

In the release, Proof Strategies noted the sector-wide decline is “likely connected to Parliamentary Committees investigating Ottawa’s relationship with the WE Charity,” which is also likely behind declines in trust in Canadian PM Justin Trudeau – now at 32% from 39% in January. Generally speaking, though, the consultancy found trust in provincial premiers has improved, while dropping in doctors, scientists and educators.

Trust in the news media has stabilized at 36% after dropping from 44% in January to 33% in May, and is highest among the 55-plus demographic at 43%.