How can HR regain employee trust?

| 10 September 2023

In today’s workplace, the relationship between employees and HR is more important than ever. However, in recent years it’s become more common for employees to express concerns about trusting their HR departments and tend to favour line management. Whilst strong trust between managers and their direct reports is to be celebrated, HR need to retain their position as the trusted place for employees. 

Some have suggested that HR has lost touch with employees as focus has shifted to its position at the top table, but the issue is far more complex than that. HR teams often struggle to be trusted as a true voice of employees because trust in workplaces is complicated and tends be built through shared workplace experiences, and proof points from observing someone in action. Many employees trust HR to deal with complex issues involving discrimination, harassment, and bullying, because there will be examples of where the department has effectively addressed these types of matters in the past.

What people will have seen less of is HR stepping-in to resolve less contentious issues such as interpersonal conflicts. This is often because HR hasn’t had the opportunity to earn trust in these situations, as circumstances will inevitably see employees turning to managers, who they know better, but who will may be keen to try and quickly to contain and resolve issues to maintain the status quo.

For decades, HR has worked hard to move beyond widespread perceptions that it is the compliance, employment law and policy writing function of an organisation, and the team that employees encounter when there’s trouble. Attitudes are changing, and many of today’s human resources teams do successfully strike the balance between representing both the interests of employees and organisations.

Undoubtedly, concerns about trust will be demoralising for HR professionals, but I think it’ll only encourage practitioners to continue in their efforts to build relationships with employees. The most practical ways for HR teams to achieve this is to take the pulse in their businesses, and to make themselves increasingly visible and accessible. If HR continues to understand where staff need support and facilitates two-way communication that enables all people to be heard at a senior level, they will earn the trust of employees through tangible actions.”

So, what can be done?

Earning the trust of employees will require more than glossy people initiatives, it’s about HR teams getting out into the business and working alongside employees, regularly.

Clearly there is a responsibility for organisations to welcome and support this approach, which can be achieved through senior leaders agreeing goals and expectations for human resources to be more integrated throughout day-to-day operations.

I’ve seen examples in businesses where HR professionals feel like they are being intrusive. Workplace cultures must evolve to stop treating HR as a hidden, behind-the-scenes resource that’s purely there for reactively resolving problems. There must be opportunity for HR to proactively get in front of employees to help them in their roles – this will build trust and show that HR is an employee advocate.


Jody Goldsworthy is a Partner within the leadership consulting team at NSCG.

Learn more about Jody here.



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