by Shayne Thomas
29 Jul 2020
If You Can’t Trust HR, Who Can You Trust?
4 tips for building and maintaining trust between employees and your HR team
It’s a troubling sign when studies reveal that 50% of employees don’t trust their HR team. Unfortunately, this became all too clear in a recent study by Zety about the “humanity of HR.”
To make matters worse, about half of the employees surveyed said that they feared some kind of repercussion if they voiced their concerns or hardships to HR and, to add the cherry on top, 69% said that they felt their HR teams don’t operate with an employee’s best interest in mind.
It’s bad enough that the world is facing a troubling time. This is honestly a moment when we really need HR to be our biggest advocates. But as the current health and economic crisis rattles on, it is pushing the limits of trust between HR teams and employees like never before.
The problem here is brutally clear: HR is no longer perceived as playing its primary and fundamental role. HR exists to support employee success and, in a secondary capacity, to support the overall growth and welfare of a business through strategic talent management.
But if employees don’t feel like HR’s got their back, then who can they turn to when they really need help? Or when they’ve been harassed? Or when they feel like they’re not being treated equally? Or when they don’t feel as though they’re being heard by their managers?
Supporting employees in these ways—and well beyond—is HR’s role. Unfortunately, there seems to be an ever-growing delta between perception and reality. It’s time for a reality check.
Trust isn’t a given, it must be earned
HR was synonymous with trust for years. Or, perhaps, that trust was only implied because the HR department was the de facto “front door” for getting hired in a company. If you got on HR’s good side from day one, it was assumed that they’d have your back through thick and thin.
But workplace dynamics have rapidly changed over the years. The world of HR no longer lives within a silo. As more top-down transparency has become standard best practice within organizations, employees have also become savvier, more engaged, and more proactive.
As a result, they’ve taken their own growth and success within companies into their own hands, thinking of HR more as a “formality” (think: onboarding sessions, annual reviews, benefits management, etc.) and less as active advocates for employee development and growth.
Similarly, as technology has begun playing a bigger role in the workplace overall, employees have expected HR functions to follow suit. Unfortunately, there’s an expectations gap here, too. Forty-three percent of employees disagree that HR is up-to-date on technology, signaling that HR may very well be stuck in an “analog” rut. By not embracing digital transformation, HR is actually making employees' lives harder and that, too, doesn’t build long-term trust.
That being said, changing the course of these trends isn’t going to happen overnight. Trust has to be earned, and HR has some work to do to gain employee trust once again. But it’s not a completely lost cause. There are some easy “wins” that can put in place immediately to help reframe how employees see HR teams moving forward, including:
1. Celebrate employee success whenever possible
Of course, part of HR’s role is to keep the trains running smoothly. So it’s no surprise that a lot of HR-related communications that come through tend to be of the process, policy, or procedures sort. Whether it’s about a rule change or simply to address specific issues facing an organization, those pesky HR emails that land in your employees’ inboxes can start to feel monotonous. (Let’s not even talk about open rates!)
But you can change the narrative. While there are certain communications about benefits, performance reviews, and other necessary administrative evils that you have to send out, why not also send out a weekly or monthly newsletter that speaks to opportunities for employee development, new training and learning content, employees success stories, and other content that shows you legitimately care. By using some of your communications to underscore HR’s dedication to employee success, you’ll shift perceptions over time.
2. Respond to employee requests quickly and with sincerity
This may seem like a no-brainer. If you work in HR, no one should have to tell you to be “sincere” or to care. But it’s easy for any job to just become a job over time. However, as HR professionals, it’s important to ensure that your priority is always the welfare of the employees you serve. So when they reach out—for anything—get back to them quickly and do so in a thoughtful, caring, and empathetic way. The way you communicate one-on-one with employees can paint the picture of you as an advocate or an adversary with only a single email or phone call. Employees rely on you to help. Be there for them at all times.
3. Don’t forget to show your human side
Any HR professional knows that the job goes hand-in-hand with a lot of administrative work. That’s part of the fun—and certainly one of the reasons why solutions like Cornerstone exist: to help you eliminate the burden of administrative overload. But beyond that, it’s all too easy for HR to become simply an email address or a voice over the phone that engages with employees in a transactional way. You need to ask yourself, “Have I met the employees I serve?” If you haven’t, then you should make an effort to do so. And if you’re not in the same location as your employees, engage with employees via video chats or, even if you rely heavily on email, be sure to introduce yourself and let employees know how you can help them. HR stands for Human Relations. Unfortunately, the human side of this relationship is getting lost in translation. Do whatever you can to bring it back. Because when you engage the employees who depend on you in a more human way, you’ll see the nature of your relationships with them change, fast.
4. Focus on people, not paperwork
This really is the culmination of it all. As HR professionals, people must always come first. Sure, there’s all that paperwork to get through but, at the end of the day, if you aren’t being an advocate for employee development, productivity, engagement, and happiness, you aren’t doing the job you were hired to do. Anyone can push paper around. But you have a unique role—and opportunity—to make a difference in employees’ lives. You likely began working in HR for this exact reason. So, get back to your roots and, if you have perhaps strayed from your core over the years, figure out what changed and how to get back on track. Not only will you be able to make a greater impact on the people around you, but you’ll likely love your job again, too.
Trust really belongs in your job description
The truth is, you can’t be effective as an HR professional if the employees you represent and advocate for don’t or can’t trust you. But gaining their trust doesn’t necessarily require a lot of hard work; it’s really more a matter of putting “human” into Human Relations. And if you were in their shoes, how would you like to be treated by your HR manager?
At the end of the day, working in HR is about building trusted relationships across organizations. If you don’t have the trust of your employees, what purpose do you really serve? Seeing research that points in any direction but trust may feel unsettling. But embrace this as an opportunity for change and to be the HR person you always wanted to be when you first started your career. When you do, rest assured that you’re playing an important role in slowly but surely changing the trajectory of these currently downward facing trends.
And if you need help, Cornerstone is always here to support you. Whether you are ready to embrace a full digital transformation of your talent management program with Cornerstone Recruiting and Cornerstone Performance or you want to give employees new ways to develop and grow with Cornerstone Learning, we can help you achieve your goals—and get you one step closer to building long-term trust with your entire organization.