How HR Leaders Can Work on Building Trust in the Workplace

According to a human resources study conducted by Harvard Business Review, human resources departments are often a last-resort solution for employees struggling in the workplace. The study found that employees are more likely to confide in a colleague or handle the issue themselves than they are to approach their human resources team.

In today’s increasingly remote/hybrid work environment, where labor shortages are common across many industries, it’s more important than ever for HR departments to shift this negative perception and position themselves as reliable employee advocates. Building trust in the workplace can make or break a business. 

By implementing clear communication, interactive training, and feedback mechanisms, organizations can ensure that employees fully comprehend the valuable role HR plays in their professional lives. As employees become more informed, they are better equipped to leverage HR resources and contribute to a positive and thriving work environment.

What causes HR distrust?

There are several reasons staff may feel distrust towards their HR department. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for HR leaders to deal with unfair and unrequited distrust in their organization. 

For example, an employee may harbor general distrust based on previous personal experiences or anecdotal stories shared by other staff members. 

When your company doesn’t trust HR, employee satisfaction levels can take a huge hit. Without trust, employees are less likely to approach HR with their issues and organizations can lose invaluable opportunities to retain top talent.

Re-educate employees on HR’s role

Human resources plays a pivotal role in ensuring a positive workplace environment, employee well-being, and compliance with policies. However, employees’ understanding of HR’s role can vary widely, often leading to misconceptions or underutilization of HR services. 

Many employees join companies with the misconception that HR staff do not have their best interests at heart. For this reason, it may be helpful to re-educate your company on what the HR team does and how they can help. 

Re-education tips for HR

“Re-education” can be an intimidating and overwhelming term, regardless of employee size. However, you can re-educate your team through a series of micro-moments and reminders. This includes: 

  • During onboarding, offer a short overview of how HR can support employees 
  • Incorporate more employee-oriented HR language into your employee handbook; switch up the corporate jargon and use simple, relatable examples to illustrate how HR can support team members
  • Take a minute or two during company meetings to remind staff that your HR team is available to support staff them if they have questions, concerns, or comments
  • Re-visit and reduce language around mediation-based solutions; encourage employees to reach out to you, even if their concern doesn’t require mediation or intervention
A close up of three employees. The female employee is sitting in the middle and they are all looking at each other and smiling.

Coach your employees through scenarios 

Many employees refrain from reaching out to HR because they don’t feel confident in and/or have a say in the outcome. To mitigate this concern, allow employees to play an active role in their solution by coaching them through interpersonal conflicts. 

For example, if an employee complains about their manager’s toxic workplace behavior, have an open dialogue about next steps. 

  1. Establish trust by reiterating the confidentiality of your conversation
  2. Ask clarifying questions to demonstrate active listening 
  3. Show emotional support by validating their concerns 
  4. Avoid directives where possible; instead, guide the employee through their options brainstorm potential solutions collaboratively
  5. Create an action plan for next steps 
  6. Provide relevant resources, such as training materials, workshops, or support groups
  7. Schedule follow-up meetings to discuss progress
  8. Provide positive reinforcement when the situation is resolved

Lead with transparency

It’s no secret that transparency in the workplace can have a positive effect on employee retention and satisfaction. One of the most effective ways to build trust and connect with employees is to show vulnerability. 

Often, HR departments are perceived more as third-party entities rather than an integral part of the team. Sharing information helps humanize the HR team and facilitates a stronger, more relatable connection with employees from various departments.

Be conscientious of what — and how — your HR team communicates. 

Ask yourself: How can I inject transparency into the conversation in an organic and relevant manner? What are you hoping to improve upon this year? What big projects are you working on?  Be transparent about why decisions are made and how they affect the organization and its employees.

Prioritize employee wellness

Equip your staff with employee wellness solutions that offer reliable guidance and support. Employee wellbeing encompasses not only physical health but also mental and emotional health, work-life balance, and overall job satisfaction. 

A healthy workforce is more likely to stay with the company.Here are a few ways you can prioritize employee wellness: 

  • Add Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) to your benefits
  • Provide counseling services
  • Create fitness challenges and wellness committees 
  • Offer mental health days 
  • Offer financial wellness workshops

Proactive wellness initiatives can reduce healthcare-related expenses, improve employee satisfaction, reduce turnover, increase productivity, and foster a stronger workplace culture.

Access employee needs

According to Harvard Business Review, nearly one-third of respondents believed human resources departments were more interested in advocating for company interests than employee interests.

Use employee surveys on a regular basis

A great HR team takes a proactive approach to incorporating trust-building practices into their processes. However, sometimes a company has to be reactive in their trust-building approach. This can occur when there’s a gap in employee feedback. 

Human resources rely on employee feedback to gain greater, more reliable insight into how their employees feel throughout the year. Employee surveys are a valuable way to keep a pulse on overall sentiment towards the HR department. 

Employ a variety of survey types to gain a holistic perspective of how your staff feel over time. For example, an onboarding survey might help you recognize that your current onboarding process isn’t working. On the other hand, your exit interview can paint a clear picture of problem areas in your organization. 

Employee survey feedback can help HR leaders gauge trends and feedback that impact the role they play. For instance, if you notice that management feedback is typically strong, while leadership-related feedback is typically low, this might indicate that managers do not feel heard or supported within the organization and, consequently, do not feel comfortable speaking to HR about the reasons why. 

Lastly, keep in mind that employee engagement platforms are only a conduit for organizational change when action is taken. In order to effectively begin rebuilding trust in the organization, taking corrective measures based on employee feedback is a must.

Create focus groups 

Focus groups are another effective way to better understand what your employees need and build trust with employees. When properly conducted, focus groups provide a powerful platform for open and honest dialogue.

Your focus group should 1) define purpose and objectives and 2) have a clear theme. 

What issues or topics do you want to explore? Common objectives include improving employee engagement, gathering feedback on company policies, or exploring new ideas for product development.

Develop a list of discussion topics or questions that align with the objectives. Ensure that the questions are open-ended and encourage participants to share their opinions, experiences, and suggestions.

More about People Element 

In order to truly understand and inspire your employees, you must listen and engage them at every step of their journey with your organization. Regardless of where your people are at in the employee journey, People Element’s employee survey platform can help you connect. They make it easy to ask, listen and act on what matters most, resulting in a healthier, more successful workplace. Request a demo today. 

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