Although many changes are being made to HR throughout all industries, including the transition from transactional to transformational HR, research shows that employees still have difficulty trusting the department.
In fact, the HR Daily Advisor newsletter reports that one in five workers don’t trust HR, and more than 30% of respondents say they avoid going to HR at all for problems (35% responded that this was because they didn’t trust HR to help and 31% said they feared retaliation). Forbes adds that 47% of employees don’t trust HR to help with conflict resolution, 48% don’t trust HR to make them aware of internal promotion opportunities, and 45% don’t believe HR acts impartially (prioritizing senior staff).
The trust deficit between most employees and HR is a significant setback, limiting HR’s potential in improving employee retention and satisfaction with the company. All is not lost, however. HR can build trust with other employees! They just need to be proactive in the process.
Building employee trust with HR begins with the following shifts in communication.
Employees feel safer coming to HR with problems, especially conflicts within the workplace, when they can count on the issue being resolved confidentially. While HR is not subjected to the same privacy mandates as a medical professional, some dimensions of employee-HR confidentiality are regulated by the law.
According to Tulane University, information such as age, sex, religion, etc., falls under this category (information reported during the hiring process). However, topics that are brought up in private employee-HR conversations are not. This is where HR should prioritize confidentiality despite not being mandated by laws. Employees will feel more comfortable discussing issues if they don’t have to worry about the whole office hearing about it after.
When telling employees that they can come to HR for everything, it is also important to ensure the department is sincere in listening, responding, and upholding that privacy. Building trust takes time, but your HR team can set the whole process back years by breaching confidentiality just once. The more your HR team can prove that they are trustworthy and sincerely here to improve employee conditions, the sooner your staff will begin to believe it to be true.
Employee needs are constantly changing, especially as new generations enter the workforce and older ones begin retiring. Regularly requesting employee feedback allows HR to stay up-to-date on employee expectations and potential ways to meet ever-changing needs. Take note that acting on feedback is just as —if not more — important as requesting it.
Likewise, give relevant feedback to employees. Research has also shown that most (82%) employees appreciate receiving positive and negative feedback because it helps them make professional improvements.
Believe it or not, a “thank you” or “great job!” can go a long way in making your employees feel appreciated for the hard work they put into your business. According to Bonusly, 70% of employees say that motivation and morale would improve ‘massively’ with managers saying thank you more. In contrast, employees who don’t feel recognized are twice as likely to quit in a year.
Despite this revelation, the report also found that there are still 65% of employees who say they haven’t received any form of recognition in the last year for the good work they’ve done.
Many problems that stem between employees and company leaders are the lack of coaching encouraged compared to the traditional way bosses communicate. For instance, if an employee lacks productivity, it’s more beneficial for a leader to work with the employee to make improvements than to scold their failures.
What’s more, the problem may even be due to conflicts they haven’t brought to HR’s attention. Encouraging coaching will help build the trust HR needs for employees to come to them for help.
Consistency is key in all matters pertaining to business, but especially in areas where trust is involved. It’s simple. If your HR team is consistent in 30 cases where employees needed help but fail to live up to the same expectations for just one case, the built trust can begin to deteriorate. It’s much easier to lose employee trust than gain it. Be sure that you’re practicing consistency as often as possible.
Of course, verbal communication should be a priority, but you should also note that nonverbal communication plays a significant role in trust as well. This is because an employee is more likely to believe you are actually interested in what they have to say when you actively nod along and look at them as they speak rather than looking around or working during the conversation.
Remember, actions speak louder than words. Saying employees can come to you for anything will not build trust without also showing that what they have to say matters to you.
The fundamental rule of any successful relationship is honesty and transparency. If HR wants to build genuine relationships with staff, as they should, the truth has to be at the forefront at all times — no matter how difficult it is.
Everything from business process changes and procedure modifications to employee-specific conversations must be honest, or the department risks irreparable damage to the trust built over time. Think of it this way: would you trust someone who wasn’t completely honest or transparent with you? It’s unlikely. Make sure you’re giving the same respect to employees.
Simply put, trust matters because it’s essential for any business that their employees feel comfortable going to HR, especially when faced with sexual harassment or other forms of harassment that can be the basis for an employee lawsuit. You must always have the employee’s best interest, not just the company, or trust won’t be built. This will require making major workplace changes if your company isn’t already implementing these eight trust-building components.
Wendy Katz is the Chief Financial Officer at Questco Companies. Wendy is aiding our clients’ drive for profitability and compliance by providing pragmatic insights and sound financial solutions to constantly evolving HR challenges.