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Human Resources: Friend or Foe? How to get employees to trust you

Posted by Andreea Hrab

human resources friend

As a Human Resources professional it’s hard to ignore the level of animosity and mistrust the average employee holds towards the HR department. A 2012 poll conducted on CareerBliss.com showed that 72% of people thought HR is just management’s pawn, while only 21% thought HR supports what’s right and barely 7% though HR actually looks out for employees.

The road to turning this negative stigma around can be long and arduous, but there are ways to impart trust and goodwill among employees. The first and most important step is to clarify your role in the company. Most of the ill will towards HR comes from employees’ realizing their notion that the department exists solely to protect and advocate for them is not actually the case. In truth, HR is a conduit between the company and its employees. A balancing act between what’s best for the company and for the employees, to ensure that employees are satisfied with the company.

So what’s an HR professional to do? Here are a few tips to help turn around negative misconceptions your employees might have:

  • Be straightforward. Be up front about what you can or can’t keep confidential and about what you can or can’t disclose to that employee. Stating that your priority is to ensure employee satisfaction, which in turns boosts productivity and profitability, is not the best idea but hiding it is even worse. Don’t be afraid to be straightforward about your role from the start, that way you dispel any misgivings employees might have about your role in the company.
  • Be sincere. Employees can sense when you’re insincere or less than truthful. Understanding that you may be privy to some things that cannot be shared with every employee, don’t shy away from sincerity, even if it’s in saying “I’m sorry, but I can’t go into detail about that with you.”
  • Be an ally. It’s natural for employees to look to HR as their protector, advocate and even psychologist. Even though in reality you can’t be all these things, what you can be is an ally. Work on explaining to employees that you take their concerns seriously and understand their point of view. Most often than not that attitude will help them see you as more approachable and make your job easier.
  • Be meticulous. You may not be able to completely solve every single employee’s issues, but you can make an effort to explain in detail the steps you took and the policies in question. Being detailed about your approach and the result will help the employee understand the ultimately decision better, as well as appreciate your efforts.
  • Be tightlipped. In an office setting it’s almost impossible to escape the water cooler talk or the rumor mill. As an HR officer, you will know many things about the workplace and about the employees. It’s crucial to keep this information to yourself. You may have to report to managers and higher level staff, but avoid mentioning anything, even if it seems inconsequential, to other employees.
  • Be kind. Some of the issues you handle in the HR department are about policy and procedure. Yet some can be quite sensitive in nature. When employees come to you about a work-related issue, try to put yourself in their shoes and be kind. Showing sensitivity to what they’re going through will make the employee feel better and will make the staff more comfortable about coming to you with their concerns.
  • Be consistent. There’s nothing like the power of word of mouth. Employees are likely to talk about their dealings with you among each other, so be consistent in how you approach situations and communicate with them. This way you avoid looking like you give preferential treatment to some.

Remember that as a human resources professional your job is multifaceted and complex. You can’t expect every single employee to be satisfied 100% of the time, but you can work to build trust and confidence among employees. Without simplifying things, think of the golden rule “Treat others as you would like to be treated” when working with employees.

Why Empowering Your Employees Equals Better Business

People want to work in a place where their voice is heard. They want meaningful, rewarding, and enjoyable work. Are you providing such a workplace for your employees? Empowering your workforce can help increase productivity, reduce costs, improve communication, and so much more. Plus, empowered employees are more loyal to the company and engaged in their work.

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About Andreea Hrab

Author

Andreea is an experienced HR professional, with a specialized background as HR in IT companies. Her areas of expertise are: recruiting, retention and company promotion. She is experienced in designing and implementing policies, procedures, and motivational programs, in coaching new hired/promoted managers and mentoring HR new employees.

9 COMMENTS Join the discussion
  • Dan Backington July, 01, 2013

    I’ve been working in HR for years and have always tried to treat everyone fairly. I never treated people as ‘resource’ but as unique individualities. Nevertheless I’m still surprised that most people see the HR as the representative of their interests, I mean the interests of employees, not employers. No matter how hard we can try to prove the opposite it will never become the truth. We are there for the employers and there’s not much we can do about that.

  • Jill McKenzie July, 02, 2013

    As an experienced HR professional I’ve always kept to the principle that if I can achieve a positive outcome for an employee I will do so, but not in case of a great loss for the company. However I’ll try my best to advise the company to be democratic in relation to an employee, it’s not me who makes the final decision. That’s why it’s so difficult for me to understand why HRs are made scapegoats as a result.

  • Alice H. July, 03, 2013

    Most of the staff members usually have unrealistic expectations towards HRs which they can’t meet. If I’m there to stay on the employee’s side – the company thinks I’m not doing my job properly. If I’m supporting the company’s decision – the employees see me as cold and heartless. It’s a vicious circle.

  • Ed Salaski July, 04, 2013

    Ok, there was a question on whose side HR stands. Is it really that difficult to guess? Then ask “who pays HR?” And there you’ve got the right answer!

  • Mag July, 05, 2013

    I can see why people treat HRs as their foes, because as in every sphere there’re people who don’t do their work fairly. I do believe there’re poor HRs, but it doesn’t give anybody rights for such sweeping generalisations.

  • Phebe Jones, MBA, SPHR-CA July, 23, 2013

    Just like most things, practicing HR is a balancing act. I am saddened by the bad reputation of HR in some organizations. It’s unfortunate as I would venture to say that in most HR Departments, there are many great things that are accomplished for employees.

    Here’s what has worked for me;
    I worked in an organization where there had never been an HR function prior to my arrival, which was great because I got to establish HR’s reputation. Over the course of time, everyone in the organization learned that my philosophy was to hold HR accountable first and help establish accountability throughout the organization. As such, I was able to help change the company culture to one of accountability. However, hand in hand with accountability, the HR team worked very hard to understand the needs of employees and create company programs and initiatives to meet their needs. After a couple of years, HR began to receive significant feedback from employees at all levels that they felt engaged and empowered at work. The employees felt there were standards but that the organization and HR specifically, HEARD them and was doing many things to help them be successful both at work and in their personal lives. Shortly thereafter, we started being nominated for workplace excellence awards and won. These nominations came from our employees. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t perfect and it wasn’t easy…it took time; but employees regularly indicated and our HC metrics demonstrated that employees were proud of our organization and their success.

  • Ruben Montero Hogan August, 07, 2013

    I am a rookie in the HR world but have come to learn the ins and outs of the company’s omniscient presence of an HR figure fairly quickly, this within an organization that outsources most of their HR responsibilities due to the scale of hire and the amount of employees in our staff. This article was of great help to me because it reminded me of the key qualities an HR Manager should have. The one that struck me the most was that of being and ally…it is difficult to be both an employee who abides to the rules set by top management and the one who tries to enforce them at the same time, without letting our own personal judgement get on the way. It also seems to me like most of us have to live a situation to then have full grasp of what the policies, some fair, some unfair really feel like. I have to agree with most commentators, especially with the balancing act opinion. It surely does require a degree of objectivity higher than average, to remain impartial, unbiased, and truly excel in the field.

  • xyz May, 01, 2014

    hi All,

    I have just started my career in HR and into a generalist role, I sometimes come across situations were employees share their problem with me and I know they are right at their point but still being an HR I am not able to help them out as everytime management doesn’t take employees issue that seriously,,, in those situations I feel like if I m not able to help the employees than than no use of being an HR and this demotivates me and I feel like quitting HR role,, I would appreciate if some experienced HR could help me in this.

  • Worker August, 28, 2014

    I must say most of my experience with HR has been negative. Where I work they hide themselves behind locked doors and turn their noses up as us regular workers. I am college educated and they treat me like I’m a peasant.

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