Why employees don’t trust HR

Posted January 29, 2018

By Katie Loehrke, PHR, editor, J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

One of the Human Resources department’s main functions is to balance the interests of their companies with the interests of individual employees. But since these aims aren’t always in harmony, it can make it difficult for employees to trust HR.

To complicate matters, trouble with trust may be fundamental. A 2013 poll from the Associated Press reports that only about a third of Americans believe most people can be trusted. It may be an uphill battle from the very start.

It’s tough out there

Beyond general difficulty establishing trust with other human beings, employees may have good reasons to be suspicious of HR professionals. Common complaints employees have about their HR departments include the following:

They regurgitate the company line. It’s part of HR’s job to make sure that company communications are consistent, so if there’s a message to be dispersed, you can bet HR will have a hand in conveying it.

It’s not simply HR’s support for company goals and initiatives that tends to be problematic for employees – they expect that HR will function this way. It’s when HR professionals don’t have the courage to acknowledge that something’s not working or to represent objections coming from employees that trust is compromised.

They aren’t secret keepers. HR has access to information that most employees do not, and in some cases, they must share it with higher-ups and peers. However, employees tend to believe that HR shares information with one another even when it’s not necessary.

While HR can’t keep employees from being suspicious that there’s gossip in the HR department, it also doesn’t need to give them any confirmation that this is the case. When information can be kept confidential, it should. And when it can’t, HR should make sure employees know that the information will need to be shared.

They are secret keepers. On the converse, employees often feel that HR professionals are privy to information that employees should have access to, but don’t. To gain employees’ trust, HR must give careful thought to how much information can be shared with the employee population.

They aren’t interested in listening. Employees know who HR answers to, and they understand that the department’s sometimes-conflicting aims can affect the outcome of a situation. A company’s high-level goals may not support individual employee requests.

Still, for employees, feeling heard can go a long way. Give employees the opportunity to voice their concerns and ideas, and follow up by explaining what becomes of their input.

Even if employees don’t get the results they hoped for, HR gains trust by keeping the lines of communication open.

Down the road toward trust

HR wouldn’t exist if companies didn’t recognize the importance of their human resources. While HR professionals can’t always eliminate the behaviors that challenge employees’ trust, certain actions can help balance the department’s responsibility to the company with their ability to make sure employees feel represented.

It’s a grueling balancing act, to be sure, but it’s an effort worth making for any company that wants to change the word on the street about HR and trust.

About the author:

Katie Loehrke

Katie Loehrke is a certified Professional in Human Resources and an editor with J. J. Keller & Associates, a nationally recognized compliance resource firm. The company offers a diverse line of products and services to address the broad range of responsibilities held by HR and corporate professionals. Loehrke specializes in employment law topics such as discrimination, privacy and social media, and affirmative action. She is the editor of J. J. Keller’s Employment Law Today newsletter and its Essentials of Employment Law manual. For more information, visit www.jjkeller.com/hr and www.jjkellerlibrary.com.