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  • Writer's pictureLisa D. Anderson

What Do You Mean our Employees Don’t Trust HR?

It’s a hard pill to swallow. How many of us know what our employees REALLY think about the HR department/team? I’ve come across several people that have not had positive experiences with HR or they don’t go to HR because they don’t trust that they will get their issue resolved. Here are some comments that disturbed me when I heard them…

“Put the “Human” back into Human Resources.”

“The HR team does not have compassion or empathy.”

“I only go to HR when there’s a problem with my pay or benefits, if I had a REAL problem, I don’t know where I could go.”

What do you think about these comments? Have you heard them or similar comments? These things were very hurtful to me, I took it personally. Many of us LOVE the field of HR. I know my “why” for being in this profession. It’s hurtful when there is a negative perception about HR. How did we get here? More importantly, what can we do to shift this perception?

When I spoke to a few of my HR colleagues about this, they were very defensive about this topic. One colleague discounted the perception issue because in her experience, when employees come to HR and don’t get the outcome they were hoping for, then they don’t like HR. Or managers don’t like HR because they don’t want HR in their business telling them they can’t do something. HR can be put in a difficult spot of trying to balance the needs of the organizations and being an employee advocate. This issue can’t be resolved overnight, but there are a few small steps that can be taken to shift this perception that HR just does not care about employees.

Here are three steps that HR can take to tackle this perception issue:

Be approachable. Do your employees view HR as a trusted department that they can go to? Are your HR leaders approachable? When I joined an organization as a HR leader, every morning I would go to the kitchen to get my tea. On my very first day when I walked into the kitchen, I said good morning to everyone. One employee stopped, looked around, and thought I wasn’t speaking to him. Another employee said good morning and quickly got her coffee and left the kitchen. Another employee said good morning and we started to talk about the traffic and how bad the commute was that morning. Every morning I went into that kitchen, I greeted everyone with a good morning and that did not change. It was the way I was raised by my parents, when you enter a room, you acknowledge and greet people. It showed employees that I am a person, I have good mornings and not so good mornings just like they do. It’s a small thing, but I had an opportunity to meet a lot of employees and get to know them right there in that kitchen. A lot of those same employees did not hesitate to reach out to me if they had a question or encountered a problem. Have you taken an honest assessment of whether your HR department is perceived to be approachable by employees?

Be aware of potential perceptions. HR is always being watched. What do I mean by this? HR is always being watched by employees and managers. Who are you going to lunch with every day? Are you friends with employees on social media? If you eat lunch with the same person (employee or manager) every day, employees are watching that. Perceptions are generated from employees watching your actions and behaviors. If the HR person is going to lunch every day with a manager, and an employee has a problem with that manager, do you think they are going to come to HR to complain about the person they know you’re having lunch with every day? I don’t think so. Having this awareness can drive your behavior and assist with perception issues of HR being a trusted department.

Make employees & managers feel heard and understood. This can truly be a balancing act since oftentimes HR is in the middle. When this balance is tilted towards one way (employees) or the other (managers), then HR can get a reputation of not being fair Some employees and managers feel that if a situation doesn’t rule in their favor, then it’s not fair. HR can create an environment where employees (and managers) are heard and even if things may not go in their favor every time, they walk away feeling that they at least have been heard and understood. Even though they may disagree with an outcome, they feel like someone heard them with compassion and empathy.

These are just a few things that may contribute to HR being perceived as not being a trusted department. Of course, there could be much larger issues that are directly related to the culture of the organization and the behaviors that the leadership may exhibit. If you are a HR leader, it’s not a bad idea to ask your HR team how they think the team is being perceived by the organization. You may gain an interesting perspective and can brainstorm with your team to determine how you want to be perceived (as a team) in the organization.

Lisa D. Anderson, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is a HR professional with over 20 years of HR experience. She is President of Positively in Pursuit, LLC. She is a Leadership and Career Coach and she coaches HR professionals and women managers and leaders.

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