HR is supposed to be the sounding board of the organization. Unfortunately, you probably aren’t hearing as much as you should because employees don’t trust HR.
New research found employees don’t trust HR to care about them. So, they aren’t willing to talk candidly about the things that bother them – from how their manager treats them to uncivil behavior within the ranks.
“When employees feel like the deck is stacked against them, conversations that could resolve meaningful concerns cease to exist,” says Joseph Grenny, co-author of Crucial Conversations.
Specifically, the Crucial Learning study found:
- 75% of employees don’t trust that their HR leader cares about their needs
- 9% felt their HR leader would advocate for them
- 37% felt HR was more concerned about advocating for the organization, and
- 47% don’t feel safe confiding in or getting assistance from the HR leader
When employees face troubles, they’d rather reach out to their manager, a trusted colleague or another leader in the company. What’s really scary: Some would do nothing at all rather than turn to HR.
So it’s more important than ever for HR to build trust with employees. Here are four strategies to do so.
Leverage your coaching position
Employees will trust HR more if you help them have difficult conversations with you and/or their managers, according to Grenny and his co-author Derek Cullimore, VP of People and Culture at Crucial Learning.
They suggest acting as an advocate for employees’ concerns with roleplaying activities. You might go through conversations such as how to:
- tell a manager you’re burned out,
- disagree with a colleague, or
- raise the flag on a toxic situation.
Ideally, you give employees the tools to have difficult – yet productive – conversations whether they’re with you, their boss or a colleague, so they never feel compelled to bottle it up.
Be a mentor, not just a documenter
You know it’s critical for HR to document, document, document. That’s always important to anything HR-related.
But when employees come to you with issues, you can act as a mentor to build trust, the Crucial Learning study authors suggest.
Document the necessities, and be a neutral sounding board. Encourage employees to call on past experiences and how they responded to or resolved them. Together, work on ways to use the past situation to help in the current one – whether that’s leaning into strategies that worked or identifying those that didn’t.
You can then identify the next steps and offer support and encouragement – just like a front-line manager might do to build a connection and trust.
Create equitable connections
HR pros – and front-line managers who can help build employees’ confidence in HR – want to build equitable connections with employees.
Here’s why equitable is key: Employee turnover is highest when leaders have great relationships with most of their employees, but not all of them, according to research in Journal of Applied Psychology. It’s even worse than having just OK relationships with everyone, the study found.
“Like offering equitable opportunities for growth and learning, good management, which includes caring about your employees as people, needs to be applied equitably,” says Liz Kofman-Burns, PhD, co-founder of Peoplism. “The key is for managers to be able to connect with all their team members.
“Fostering connection is a skill that can, and should, be taught, starting with understanding how an individual’s identities can impact their experiences at work,” she says.
Sure, HR pros are likely sensitive to and proactive in all Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) efforts. Now you might want to consider adding an “equitable relationship” element to training and initiatives so you and all front-line managers give employees equal time and opportunities to connect.
Sometimes employees don’t trust their employers because they feel like they’re not trusted.
Nearly 40% of employers have added or increased using employee activity tracking software since the pandemic started, according to Owl Lab’s sixth annual State of Remote Work report.
Trust is a two-way street. When employees feel like their boss is keeping tabs on them all the time, they grow skeptical of the intentions.
One way to eliminate the trust gap is to get employees’ input early and often on any monitoring or tracking activity. The circle of trust starts when employees have a say in how their work is monitored.
“Listening to employees is crucial as companies iterate on their policies, practices and product solutions to align with team members’ needs.” says Frank Weishaupt, CEO of Owl Labs.