6 easy steps to being the HR pro everybody trusts

Many, many employees don’t trust HR. That’s a fact.

Whenever I read an article about workplace bullying, toxic bosses, unethical workplace practices, or some other related topic, and the writer recommends the worker appeal to HR for help, the comments will be full of people telling the writer he’s nuts and that going to HR is a complete waste of time.

Well, I’m going to make a confession. I tend to agree with the commenters, because I don’t trust HR myself, and I’m an HR professional.

Go ahead and shoot the messenger, but on the whole, HR has what I believe is a well-earned reputation for being decidedly unhelpful in resolving employee relations issues, especially when management malfeasance is at the root. I know that whenever I’ve had a problem, HR has been about as useful as a vase with a big hole in the bottom. Seriously.

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Is there a better way? 

You know there is! Plenty of dedicated, talented HR professionals do their best to make a positive impact in their organizations by routinely displaying courage, wisdom, knowledge (of business and people), and compassion. As a result, they’ve rightfully gained employee trust.

So if you’re an HR professional, how can you gain the trust of coworkers and management?

  1. Don’t spout the party line
    Yes, HR represents the company, and yes HR should support company initiatives. But a refusal to acknowledge the reality of certain situations (e.g., the new accounting system sucks, nobody wants to work with Stan in Marketing because he’s a tyrant, the performance management system needs a major overhaul, etc.) only makes HR look out of touch and insincere. You don’t have to trash anyone (and you shouldn’t), but tell the truth, okay?
  2. Don’t be a coward
    HR pros employees trust are willing to take unpopular stances when it’s the right thing to do. And these guys and gals actually know there’s a difference between right and wrong, no matter who signs the checks.
  3. Act with integrity
    Don’t gossip, break confidences, lie, or back stab. While all these sound like “no brainers,” I hear way too many stories about HR folks who do all these things and more. Obviously no one trusts (or respects) them.
  4. Act like you give a darn
    Have you ever had to engage with an HR professional who practically snarled when he spoke? How about one with the energy of a rock? Confidence inspiring? Not exactly? That’s what I thought. On the other hand, the most trustworthy HR pros recognize that theirs is a service-oriented job that should be performed with passion, competence, and civility.
  5. Be a real person
    Working in HR is a special privilege that brings its practitioners up close and personal with lots of sensitive information. As such, it’s only natural for HR professionals to be a little distant, but there’s no reason to be a cold fish. Show some humanity. Laugh a little (or a lot). It’s okay.
  6. Know your job
    In other words, be technically competent.

I love HR, but it’s a thankless job overloaded with incumbents who’ve given the profession a bad name for a long time.

However, you don’t have to painted with the same brush as them. Knowing your job, regularly doing it well, and treating people kindly will go a long way toward getting others to trust and respect you.

Learn more about building an HR department that wins praise not pity with this PayScale whitepaper:  Hero or Zero: Getting the most from HR


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3 Comments on "6 easy steps to being the HR pro everybody trusts"

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I think of HR as a customer service role – the employees are my customers; all of the employees, including management.  My goal is excellent customer service.  There are times when an employee’s complaint/suggestion can’t be fully addressed (usually because management is unwilling to make a change), but as liaison, I bring all legitimate concerns to management, and I try to help the worker understand the barriers that management faces.  It is my job to be the glue that holds the team together.  It is sad that often, neither rank-and-file, nor management, trust Human Resources to be on their side. … Read more »

I agree! If you want HR to be respected and not hated, we need to put the HUMAN back into human resources. The employees are our customers and they need to be treated like people, people who will have problems who look to us for help. Sometimes it isn’t a resolution that is always necessary for employees, it is just having an opportunity to have a voice and be heard. Taking the time to show you care goes a long, long way! 

A few years ago, I had a new CEO who asked me to share with her any information that employees shared with me.  It was not for sinister reasons.  She just wanted to know what employees were thinking and feeling.  But I said no, and explained that, as her HR Director, I had to maintain the credibility and trustworthiness that I have cultivated with our employees.  I promised that if I believe the information, good or bad, will help the company, I will encourage the employee to go to her after talking to me.  And of course, if the information involves the violation… Read more »