Trust in workplaces is, at the best of times, complex. It’s built through shared experiences, which promote understanding and fuel familiarity and relationships. Proof points and observing someone in action are also instrumental to establishing and reinforcing workplace trust. It’s for these reasons that HR tends to struggle so much in fostering trust among staff.
There can be limited opportunities for human resources to regularly work with employees. On the occasions when there’s a chance for shared experiences between staff and HR professionals, these can be rooted in negativity because, more often than not, they are addressing performance issues or disciplinary matters.
Conversely, these situations do build some level of trust. Many employees have confidence and faith in HR to deal with difficult and sensitive issues involving discrimination, harassment, and bullying. However, this type of trust is very limited and doesn’t always amplify positivity for HR among staff. Human resources can address this through becoming increasingly visible and accessible.
1) Becoming part of the day-to-day
Earning the trust of employees requires 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.
2) Take the pulse of employees
In many instances, organisations and HR will believe they have their finger on the pulse of what matters most to employees. Staff surveys and line-management processes will be in place to gauge feedback. The stumbling block is that these initiatives can be very prescriptive and, sometimes, unintentionally bias towards the interests of the organisation. They won’t give an accurate read about what employees genuinely value or the concerns they actually want to see addressed.
HR can overcome this by better involving employees in the creation of the initiatives designed to provide them with a voice. For example, creating Business Employee Resource Groups (BERGs) can empower staff to pinpoint and prioritise the opportunities and issues that matter most to them, and create opportunity for them to devise practical and effective solutions. Human resources teams can help facilitate BERGs and the implementation of employee-led initiatives that help shape workplace culture.
3) Create open channels of communication
BERGs are one step towards improving regular interactions and communications between HR and employees. They must be supported with other visible and accessible methods and channels, where staff can easily – and comfortably – call on HR. This may involve the creation of digital portals and comms channels, or physical drop-in style sessions where staff can meet with members of the HR team.
In many instances, HR will be viewed as a closed shop or a resource to be engaged on a needs must basis. This can be changed through providing employees with the confidence and ability to easily connect with HR. Along with open lines of communication, it can be beneficial to remind employees of HR’s role and how this can benefit staff day-to-day. Something as simple as a straightforward explanation, along with knowing that human resources support is readily available can prompt a more proactive relationship between employees and HR. It can prove an effective means of creating opportunities to promote shared experiences that build workplace trust.