Trustworthy Occupations

Quickly now – which are the least-trusted professions and occupations?  If you think about it a moment, you’ll probably make pretty good guesses.

Now for a tougher one: which profession is the most trusted? This one, I find, less than half of respondents get right.

Your Profession Conveys an Image of You

The annual Gallup poll of Honesty and Ethics in Professions came out this past November. First, let’s get the fun stuff out of the way.

The next-to-least trusted profession is (drumroll…envelope please) – Members of Congress! Only 10% of respondents rate congressmen as high or very high.  And the big prize for absolutely least-trusted profession? Car salespeople. Aw, and it was so close; they came in at 8%, just two percentage points behind Congress. In fact, last year they were tied.

Well, that was easy. But who was most trusted? Engineers? A respectable 70 points, but not highest. Doctors? Tied with engineers at 70. Pharmacists outperformed doctors, with a rating of 75%.

But the profession that takes the cake for most trustworthy – for about the 13th year in a row – is nursing.

That’s right, nursing. And it makes sense, if you think about it.

Why We Trust Nurses the Most

The Trust Equation breaks trustworthiness into four factors – credibility, reliability, intimacy, and low self-orientation.  In studies we’ve done on the four factors, it turns out that Intimacy has the strongest correlation with high aggregate levels of trust.  That is, we tend to put more weight on that one factor than on the others.

Think about which of those four traits nurses most clearly represent.  It is intimacy – the sense that we can share our most open, vulnerable selves to another.  More than anyone else, we are willing to stand naked – metaphorically as well as literally – before nurses.  It only makes sense.

The same data suggest that women – on the whole and on the average, though not person by person – are more trustworthy than men. And almost all of women’s better scores have to do with higher scores on the intimacy factor. Need I mention that nursing is primarily a female profession? Again, it just makes sense.

Is Industry Destiny?

Are we doomed to low trust if we’re a lawyer?  A politician? A marketer? Male?  Conversely, are we guaranteed high levels of trust if we graduate from pharmacy school?

No. Trust is experienced at a personal level, and trustworthiness is primarily an individual, human trait. There are highly trustworthy salespeople, and an RN doesn’t guarantee trust.  But there’s no doubt that you have two strikes against you if you’re in a low-trust profession, and you’re spotted more than a few points if you’re in a highly trusted profession.

In the end, though, trust is personal. You have to live up to the world’s expectations – or confound them, as the case may be.  It’s up to you.

1 reply
  1. Rich Sternhell
    Rich Sternhell says:

    Charlie, Great post and welcome back from Brazil!! I would suggest one additional perspective about nursing….and that is the low level of perceived self-orientation that they have as a profession relative to physicians. In my experience, a low level of self-orientation is essential to a high level of intimacy. If it’s “all about me”, the chance of intimacy is pretty low. Rich


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