Uncertainty still holds sway over the nation’s cultural zeitgeist, and has businesses and marketers unsure how to proceed in order to connect with consumers. New research from comms giant Ruder Finn takes a deep dive into how Americans think about the future and how business leaders play a role in shaping American outlook.
The newly launched Ruder Finn FutureThink Index explores the specific relationship respondents have with their employer, healthcare and technology providers, and how levels of transparency, dialogue, and knowledge (TDK) within those structures impact the respondent’s future outlook and current behaviors.
Highlights of the inaugural FutureThink Index include:
The American Dream still unites us
Despite doom and gloom, we managed well through the pandemic crisis. Americans overall lean positive when asked about their current experience during the past year, with 48 percent saying they had a positive year, and only 15 percent of Americans saying they had a bad or terrible year. Americans are even more confident about the future, with 58 percent of Americans believing their lives will get better going forward.
A new style of business leadership is shaping positivity
Given the challenges facing America, the Index sought to understand what is driving this American positivity and whether a new style of connected leadership based on transparency, dialogue and knowledge-sharing is having real and meaningful impact on future outlook and current behaviors. In order to do that, we measured respondents’ connection to employers, healthcare and technology providers in terms of transparency, dialogue, and knowledge. For example, when it comes to career, 82 percent of Americans with high TDK connection think the future looks better, compared to only 52 percent of people with medium and 31 percent of people with low TDK connection.
The differences are even more striking when looking at health, where a similar 82 percent of Americans with high TDK connection think the future looks better, compared to only 43 percent of people with medium and 24 percent of people with low TDK connection.
Businesses and leaders can also shape current behaviors by building stronger TDK: people with high TDK are 20 percent more likely to get a COVID vaccine, 96 percent more likely to drive an electric car and more than twice as likely to take a career development course. Employers beware: high TDK employees are also 92 percent more likely to find a new job.
So while building high TDK engages and motivates high performers, it also encourages those employees to seek new opportunity. If employers don’t create opportunities within, high performers will seek it elsewhere.
Overcoming our cultural divide
As we have seen in much reporting, women and parents have suffered during the pandemic, trying to balance and juggle. The study shows these groups are more uncertain about the future and feel significantly lower TDK: 64 percent of men, for example, believe the future will be better, compared to only 48 percent of women.
Similar gaps are seen across wealth and ethnic lines: 72 percent of Americans who perceive themselves as wealthy think the future looks better, compared to 58 percent who perceive themselves as middle class and only 41 percent who perceive themselves as low income.
Current and future positivity is more consistent across ethnic and racial groups, with 58 percent of White Americans, 52 percent of Black Americans, 59 percent of Hispanic/Latino and 64 percent of Asian Americans thinking the future looks positive.
There is still work to be done in developing TDK connection in the Black community, with only 22 percent of Black Americans feeling high TDK connection compared to 40 percent of White Americans.
The Great Resignation and urban collapse
A generational change is altering the way businesses need to connect with their employees. As people get younger, they feel less connected to their employers: 57 percent of GenXers feel high TDK compared to 49 percent of Millennials and 26 percent of Gen Z.
Gen Z, notably, is the only group where FutureThink (53 percent positive) goes down over current experience (55 percent positive). Businesses will need to re-evaluate how they connect with a younger workforce going forward.
Headlines also call out the collapse of urban centers, while the study shows that cities remain the engines that drive positivity and connection: 66 percent of people living in cities think the future looks better compared to 49 percent of people living in rural and suburban communities thinking the future looks better. This gives new reason for corporate leaders to support building back cities while creating deeper connection in a hybrid world.
“In this new age, businesses and their leaders are emerging as primary, trusted sources of information, and they are becoming true influencers for behaviors from how we manage our personal health to how we think about our future,” said Ruder Finn CEO Kathy Bloomgarden, in a news release. “With this power comes a higher than ever degree of responsibility, and it is crucial that leaders and businesses consider their impact and how their actions can help both close the gaps in sentiment we see across demographics, and improve the outlook of society overall.”