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How HR can build trust with employees

If you work in human resources, chances are you have experienced being shut out. Perhaps you have noticed employees go quiet when you enter a room or heard them joke, “Watch what you say—HR is here.” Unfortunately, HR doesn’t always have the best reputation. Too often HR is thought of as enforcers of policies rather than protectors of employees.  

How can you work to change these negative perceptions? It all starts with trust. By building genuine trust with employees, you can do your job more effectively and employees can feel better supported and protected in the workplace. 

What do employees really think of HR? 

If you have ever felt alienated and mistrusted, it may not be all in your head. A survey released in January 2023 by ARRIS Composites found that 34% of employees distrust their HR representative.  

Last year, another poll by Crucial Learning found that nearly half of employees feel unsafe confiding in HR. Only 15% of respondents said they felt comfortable talking to HR about sexual harassment, and even fewer felt comfortable discussing topics like discrimination and disrespect, compensation and benefits, issues with a supervisor, or work–life balance. 

HR professionals are in a unique spot. Every day can feel like a balancing act between meeting the company’s needs and employees’ needs. Employees who distrust HR often believe HR prioritizes the company over employees. The same study by Crucial Learning found that almost 40% of employees think their HR leader is more concerned about the organization’s needs than caring for employees. Only 9% of respondents believe HR would advocate for them.  

These numbers tell a clear story about how employees view HR. But how do these perceptions really impact the workplace? 

Why trust matters  

If employees feel unsafe raising workplace concerns, HR practitioners can’t do their jobs effectively. This means they can’t resolve conflicts, investigate incidents, or support employees who may need resources. When HR can’t address workplace issues, morale suffers and problems start to spread. If serious offences go unreported, it becomes difficult to protect the rights and safety of employees. 

On the other hand, what does a workplace with a high-trust culture look like? 

In high-trust organizations, employees feel safe to bring up ideas and problems. They take more risks, are more innovative, and feel free to express themselves. Developing a high-trust culture has undeniable rewards. High-trust organizations see higher retention rates, higher rates of teamwork, and better financial performance in economic downturns. According to Great Place to Work, companies with high-trust cultures typically have stock market returns up to three times higher than the market average

Leaders in high-trust organizations understand that it is in the company’s best interest to support employees. They know that companies can only achieve their business goals with and because of their employees. And when employees know that their rights, safety, and wellbeing are valued and protected, they can do their best work. 

Cultivating trust in the workplace: A free guide for HR professionals 

Building trust is a process—it involves holding yourself to high standards and establishing a reputation for reliability. It also requires that you continually gather and respond to employee feedback and ensure two-way communication. 

To help you begin to cultivate trust in your workplace, we put together a FREE guide with effective strategies and best practices for HR practitioners. In this guide, you will learn: 

  • How to lead by example; 
  • How to establish yourself as a reliable expert; and 
  • How to increase your communication and visibility. 

Download our FREE Guide to Cultivating Trust in the Workplace to get started!