Trust and consequences: Leaders who don’t listen pay a price

By Bryan Strickland

Trust is a valuable commodity that drives a company's success, but trust is in shorter supply than many company leaders realize.

A company's employees may hold the key to leaders achieving the level of trust that many mistakenly think they already have.

Fifty-four percent of employees participating in PwC's 2023 Trust Survey reported experiencing a "trust-damaging event" with an employer, while just 20% of business leaders were aware of an event at their company that eroded the trust of key stakeholders.

Among employees who lost trust in a company, 53% said they have left a job after such an experience.

That disconnect — and a similar disconnect between consumers and company leaders — may present a valuable opportunity for leaders to link with employees and foster further trust between all parties.

The survey findings, resulting from polling of 2,012 employees, 2,508 consumers, and 500 business executives, revealed that employees and consumers don't trust the companies they interact with on the same level that business executives believe they do.

On the consumer side, 50% reported a trust-damaging event with a company — similar to the employee rate. Among those consumers, a triggering event led 63% to stop buying a company's products or services.

What's happening here, and how does it present a great opportunity for company leaders?

The survey suggests that on a micro level, individual employees are more in the know about trust issues than company leaders — while also revealing that micro-level events can have a real impact on the macroeconomics of a company.

Consumers most commonly labeled their trust-damaging event as a customer service issue, while employees most commonly said their trust-damaging event involved bias or mistreatment.

What group generally is aware of the details of both types of occurrences? Employees.

What group is the least likely to be aware of such occurrences? Company leaders.

Given that only 20% of leadership was aware of a trust issue, it might not even occur to leaders to reach out to their employees for perspective. The PwC report refers to these trust-related occurrences as "blind spots" for leaders and suggests that they could benefit from seeing the light.

"Managers and leadership have to create a culture where workers feel empowered to speak up — and feel heard and supported when they do," the report stated. "By engaging in this way, companies can get a better sense of where potential trust issues may lurk."

Less than half (45%) of business executives surveyed strongly agreed that leadership "gives appropriate attention to earning trust in the business," and just 34% of employees said the same. Simply finding effective ways to canvass employees could help bridge the gap between employees and leadership, and the information gleaned could be used to bridge the gap between consumers and companies.

Whatever the causes of trust issues, there is work to be done: Eighty-four percent of business executives believe consumers highly trust their company, but just 27% of consumers say they do. Seventy-nine percent of business executives believe employees highly trust their company; 65% of employees say they actually do.

— To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Bryan Strickland at

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