PwC’s 2024 Trust Survey

8 key findings

Trust in business hero image
  • Report
  • 15 minute read
  • March 12, 2024

of business executives agree that building and maintaining trust improves the bottom line


of executives say they face at least one challenge when building trust with stakeholders


of executives say they highly trust their employees, but only 60% of employees feel highly trusted

Trust: It accelerates the bottom line

Trust in many institutions is declining, which is why it’s at a premium in business. In our fourth trust survey, the results underscore the importance and the opportunity of trust among business executives, consumers and employees. Among respondents, 95% of business executives agree that organizations have a responsibility to build trust (up from 92% in 2023). The numbers for consumers and employees are nearly as high, at 92% and 94%, respectively (unchanged in the past year). There isn’t just a moral case for building trust — there’s a business case as well, with 93% of business executives agreeing that the ability to build and maintain trust improves the bottom line.

Our data highlights an opportunity for companies to build trust with key stakeholders. Given the importance of trust, companies that understand their trust levels among employees, consumers, investors and other stakeholders — and take a proactive approach to building it — can give themselves a clear edge over competitors.

1. The trust gap is growing

An important first step for businesses is recognizing the trust gap. Business executives continue to overestimate how much they are trusted by employees and consumers. And they’re more off the mark today than they were in the last two years.

  • Consider that 90% of business executives think customers highly trust their companies while only 30% of consumers actually do. That gap of 60 percentage points is greater than the 57 points we saw in both 2023 and 2022.

  • Employees are more likely than consumers to trust businesses, but there’s still a widening gap: 86% of business executives think employee trust is high, compared to 67% of employees who say they highly trust their employer. This employee trust gap of 18 points is higher than in the past.

One reason companies may be overly optimistic about trust levels is that they don’t have internal structures in place to consistently identify where the trust expectation gap exists. Many companies say that they measure trust but, based on our conversations with business executives, those metrics are often subjective and don’t fully capture the current sentiment across stakeholder groups such as employees, customers and investors. These often include metrics such as customer satisfaction and employee engagement, which are related to trust but are only part of the picture when it comes to trust. Companies that move beyond these partial measures can better identify where they should focus.

2. It’s getting even harder to earn trust

This year, business executives face more hurdles building trust with stakeholders, with 94% reporting at least one challenge, up 11 points compared with 2023.

For example, 30% of executives cite an inability to change supply chain processes and materials due to cost as one of the top three issues they face, more than any other factor (up from 23% in 2023). This may be due to inflationary pressures as executives weigh whether or not to pass the increased cost of production on to consumers.

Another challenge is a lack of clear ownership of trust among leaders, which 24% of executives cite as a top-three challenge, up 10 points from 2023. The lack of ownership reflects an opportunity for companies to clarify that trust should not be relegated to a single leader. Instead, it should be everyone’s responsibility, with clear objectives, metrics and incentives. In that way, trust is a team effort with key roles for the CEO, CHRO, COO, CFO and business unit heads.

Nearly a quarter of executives (24%) cite a lack of clarity about what stakeholders want (up from 17% in 2023) as a top challenge. A robust stakeholder engagement plan can help. Your plan should outline how and when to communicate with your stakeholder groups to engage them in your strategy. Recognize that the goal is not to get universal agreement from all of your stakeholders, but to open up lines of communication so they understand the choices you make.

3. Trust: Customers buy it, employees feel it and investors demand it

Business executives overwhelmingly agree that they face at least one risk if stakeholders don’t trust their company. The impact varies by stakeholder, but the common theme is a loss of value.

  • Customers: 42% of executives cite customer engagement as the biggest risk if customers don’t trust a business, followed by the ability to expand into new geographic markets or customer segments (41%) and profitability (38%). Customers know that companies compete for their dollars. If they don’t fundamentally trust a company, some may grumble but many will simply switch. In addition, 61% of consumers have recommended a company that they trust to friends or family. Consumers also spend more at companies they trust — 46% purchased more, and 28% paid a premium. Four in 10 customers no longer purchase from a company due to lack of trust.
  • Employees: 42% of executives cite productivity as the biggest risk if employees don’t trust their employer, along with the quality of products and services (41%), operational efficiencies (40%) and — again — profitability (38%). Surprisingly, retention was lower on the list. Traditionally, companies have viewed trust among employees as a means to attract and retain talent. But this data shows that lower trust among employees has an immediate impact on everyday operations. The risk is not that people leave — it’s that they stay and work half-heartedly. In addition, 60% of employees say they have recommended a company to friends or family as a place to work because they trusted the company. Conversely, 22% of employees say that they have left a company because of trust issues.
  • Investors: 41% of executives say the cost of capital is at risk if investors don’t trust their company, 38% say access to capital and 38% say market value. The risks regarding capital are particularly timely given where we are in the deals cycle, with fewer IPOs and less M&A. In this environment, with companies increasingly relying on private capital — and potentially seeking public capital in the near future — trust matters enormously.

In building trust, the basics matter. Consumers say protecting their data (79%), quickly responding to and resolving their concerns (74%) and delivering a consistent and reliable customer experience (73%) are very important to earning their trust. Nearly nine in 10 executives believe that their company does these things very well. Employees say that fair pay is very important (77%), followed by fair treatment (77%), protecting employee data (72%) and ethical behavior (72%).

That should be a reassuring message to leaders. Building trust with employees and consumers requires sustained efforts over time, but it’s not necessarily a complex problem to solve.

4. Employees — even remote — are more trusted by employers than they think

Our survey shows another perception gap, but this one is more positive. For the first time, we asked executives how much they trust employees, and 86% indicate a very high level of trust. At the same time, only 60% of employees think company leaders highly trust them. This underscores the importance of showing your employees that you trust them. Most employees (61%) agree that the perceived lack of trust their company leadership has in them impacts their ability to do their jobs well.

Somewhat surprisingly, the degree to which executives trust employees is consistent regardless of whether workers are in-person or remote. When we look at companies with hybrid work arrangements:

  • More than two thirds (68%) of business executives say they trust remote and in-person employees equally, while only 20% say they trust in-person employees more.
  • Compare this to the 60% of employees who think leaders trust workers equally regardless of work location and the 31% who think leaders trust in-person employees more.

For executives at hybrid companies, leadership teams should communicate — emphatically and repeatedly — that they trust their teams regardless of where the work gets done.

5. Familiarity breeds trust

In the workplace, people tend to trust those they work closely with more than others. For example, 53% of business executives say they trust their senior leadership team to a great extent, whereas only 38% say the same of entry-level staff.

Within the C-suite, however, peer trust is lower. The degree to which C-suite peers trust each other is lower (44% trust to a great extent) than non-C-suite (53%). This is troubling for a few reasons. For employees to feel trusted, it’s crucial for the members of the C-suite to trust each other. Only then can trust fully spread throughout the organization, fostering a culture of openness and collaboration. In addition, a lack of trust at the highest level can potentially lead to other issues affecting the ability of the business to decide on and follow through on the company strategy.

As managers consider how to build trust across all employees, it is important to take a number of considerations into account.

  • Entry-level staff are the least trusted employee group, with only 38% of executives and 32% of employees overall saying they trust them to a great extent. This highlights the need for additional support, training and mentoring programs to build trust and confidence in these employees.
  • Employees separately tell us that companies offering opportunities for in-person team building matter, with 57% saying it would increase how much they trust their employer. Showing your employees that you value their input can go a long way: 83% of employees agree that they’d trust their company more if their direct supervisor involved them in important decisions.
  • Managers can take meaningful steps toward building trust and strengthening relationships within their teams by listening. More than two thirds (68%) of employees consider this very important for building trust.
  • Offering opportunities for career advancement is another crucial aspect in building trust among employees, with 61% of respondents saying it’s very important. Investing in career advancement not only fosters trust but also enhances employee engagement, motivation and overall job satisfaction.

The underlying issue is not that people in far-flung divisions of the company — or at different seniority levels — are inherently less trustworthy. It’s that people don’t trust what they don’t know. Without regular interactions, it’s hard to forge the bonds of trust. What can fix this? Greater exposure to people in different parts of the organization through job rotations, secondments and ask-me-anything sessions with senior leaders. Whatever you choose, make sure you demonstrate your commitment to employee growth and to the long-term success of your team members.

6. Monitoring remote workers can erode trust

Even though executives generally trust employees equally regardless of work location, some company policies can erode employee trust.

  • More than seven in ten (71%) employees say flexibility around when work gets done would build their trust, but only 43% of executives say they currently offer this type of flexibility. Almost the same percentage (72%) of employees at remote and hybrid companies say this would build trust, but 45% of those companies offer it.
  • Similarly, 69% of employees say flexibility around where work gets done would build more trust. But only 39% of executives say they currently offer this. For remote and hybrid company employees, 72% say the same, while 42% of those companies offer location flexibility.

Companies that offer remote work but track how often employees are in the office or monitor employee online activity such as time logged in can erode employee trust. Indeed, 35% of employees at companies with remote work policies say they would trust companies less if they were to track their online activity.

Business executives have an understandable need to establish that employees are productive, but they should understand the potential downsides to digital surveillance. This can result in reduced trust, which makes workers less productive — the very behavior that surveillance is intended to prevent.

7. Transparency about climate is critical

Nine in 10 business executives say their company has taken action to reduce its impact on the environment. Of that group, 85% say that such actions enhance trust among employees. (Among employees, 70% say these actions increase trust.) A similar percentage of executives say that environmental actions help them build trust with other stakeholders, including customers, investors and suppliers.

Environmental actions are noteworthy, but companies have an opportunity to communicate more about what they’re doing. Proactive, candid disclosures enable stakeholders to make informed decisions on whether to trust — and ultimately engage with — a company. The data shows gaps between stakeholder expectations for transparency and the current level of company disclosures.

For example, 45% of employees say that it’s very important for companies to disclose their environmental impact, such as making a net zero commitment, and 41% of consumers say the same. Yet only 36% of business executives say that they actually disclose this information. Disclosures regarding climate-related risks show a similar split, with 40% of employees and 39% of consumers saying that such disclosures are very important, yet only 31% of companies disclose these risks. This disconnect may be due to a different interpretation of the word disclosure, as most companies report climate impact and risk through their sustainability teams.

Regulatory bodies around the world are increasingly focusing on disclosures about climate-related risks and environmental impact. Companies have little to gain by waiting.

8. Responsible AI practices can foster trust

Many companies are also focusing their attention on Responsible AI (RAI) strategies, and there’s a lot more to do in this area. As AI becomes more integrated into business applications, the way that companies govern it and put guardrails around its use — including the underlying data — will likely have a significant impact on stakeholder trust.

Currently, companies are all over the map when it comes to RAI. When we asked how far along they are in developing a Responsible AI strategy, 30% say that parts of their business have a strategy in place, 19% say their company is in the process of developing a strategy, and 39% of executives say they have a company-wide strategy in place. We believe many executives are likely blurring RAI with broader concepts around cybersecurity and that they are closer to the starting line than they realize. Your existing cyber and privacy programs can be building blocks for a more holistic RAI strategy.

Only 33% of the executives in our survey say their companies disclose their AI governance framework. Compare this to the 69% of employees and 66% of consumers who say it’s important that companies disclose. We anticipate that this will become more of an issue as consumer and employee awareness around the need for AI governance grows.

At the moment, employees and consumers are most concerned with data privacy policies, which 89% of employees and 88% of consumers say are important for companies to disclose. Compare this to the surprisingly low 32% of executives who say their companies do so.

The trust playbook for executives

  • Acknowledge the trust gap. Business executives should recognize and address the trust gap that exists between them and their stakeholders, including employees and customers. We think there’s a disconnect between what executives believe they’re measuring, monitoring and reviewing related to trust and what will actually provide insight into trust. Many executives, for instance, focus on employee satisfaction and retention, thinking that these equate to trust. While these are key metrics that impact trust, measuring trust in a holistic way requires more.
  • Take on trust opportunities as a team. Start with an understanding of how a decrease in trust can negatively impact various aspects of your business, including customer engagement, market expansion opportunities and overall profitability. Treat trust as a collective responsibility within the organization, using a common set of metrics that formally measure trust. Building trust is a shared responsibility, which means working harder as an executive team to put it at the center of your strategy.
  • Focus on building a culture of trust. Start by fostering trust within the C-suite. Without this as a foundation, it will be difficult to build a culture of trust with your employees. Tell and show your employees that you trust them and provide opportunities to help them trust each other more. Offer additional training and mentoring programs for all employees, as well as opportunities for career advancement and forums for two-way feedback. Investment in career advancement can foster trust and enhance employee engagement, motivation and job satisfaction. Increased trust can drive productivity, which can help your business be more profitable.
  • Develop a stakeholder engagement plan. Assign relationship owners to your stakeholders and outline what your communication strategy with them will be. Put listening channels into place to better understand stakeholder perspectives and to anticipate any shifts in views. Map your stakeholders by issue to help connect dots across the company and to better understand what your stakeholders want. Be strategic about tradeoffs that may be necessary. Recognize that trust is fluid, meaning that stakeholder needs and wants will evolve. Your leadership team should have a plan for engaging with stakeholders on a regular basis.
  • Tell your company’s story consistently. It is crucial for businesses to align the narrative in their disclosure documents with what they publish publicly on their company websites. Is your 10-K language around climate impact consistent with your sustainability report? Maintaining a unified story without conflicting messages is essential to avoiding confusion and mistrust. Bring your narrative to life by communicating transparently and engaging with stakeholders intentionally and often. This continuous work can strengthen trust, enhance reputation and foster alignment and purpose within the organization.
  • Embed trust in new areas from the start. For example, when implementing or investing in new technologies, design for trust from the beginning. Doing so can help deliver more long-term value while avoiding having to close gaps later. And as you approach disclosure regulations, put technology and transparency at the center of your reporting strategy. This can help your company develop the controls and processes needed to build trust around the collection, storage and reporting of sustainability data. By demonstrating a commitment to sustainability and actively engaging with stakeholders, you can foster trust and build long-term relationships based on shared values and responsible business practices.

About the survey

PwC surveyed 548 business executives, 2,515 consumers and 2,039 employees in the United States across various industries. It was fielded January 12-17, 2024.

Past PwC Trust Surveys

To view data and insights from PwC Trust Surveys, please see below.

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J.C. Lapierre

J.C. Lapierre

Chief Strategy and Communications Officer, PwC US