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How employers can build trust in their HR departments

In many workplaces, the human resources (HR) department is the de facto face of the employer. HR departments are, after all, generally responsible for communicating new employment policies and enforcing existing ones. Even if leadership is making the rules, HR is the one primarily interacting with job candidates when hiring, new hires when onboarding and established employees thereafter.

For employers, the end result is that it’s imperative to have an HR department that your workforce trusts to address their needs efficiently, competently and pleasantly. But this can be a challenge. A recent study by Secure Data Recovery found that more than a third of the 1,005 U.S. workers surveyed said they don’t trust their employers’ HR departments. (Note: All survey respondents worked for companies with less than 50 employees.)

Exercise transparency and clarity

It may not take much to compromise the trust of your employees in your HR department if you aren’t proactively building and maintaining that trust. A pattern of miscommunications or even one big negative incident could cause a breakdown that leads to costly drops in morale, productivity and employee retention.

The roots of mistrust often lie in confusion. If employees aren’t provided with clear information about policies, procedures and rules, they may misinterpret those in place or make up their own. In either case, discord and distrust are likely to develop when supervisors start calling them out on infractions and HR must move in as enforcement.

Be sure your organization is spelling everything out clearly. A good place to begin is with a comprehensive, well-written, legally compliant and regularly updated employee manual. When new hires are onboarded, ask them to read it and sign an acknowledgment. But don’t stop there. Have someone — whether a supervisor, mentor or HR staffer — review the manual with them and be available to answer questions.

In addition, when new policies, procedures or rules are rolled out, communicate them strategically. That is, leadership and HR should collaborate to identify the optimal way to explain both the change itself and the rationale for it. Focus on clarity and choosing the best medium (or media) for communicating.

Establish and maintain visibility

HR departments that largely hide in the shadows, emerging only during open enrollment for benefits, risk being cast by default in a negative light. This often occurs when employees don’t hear from or interact with HR unless something bad has happened — say, a disciplinary action, termination, conflict between two staff members, or when someone levels a harassment or discrimination charge.

HR staff tend to be viewed from a much more trustworthy perspective when employees know them — literally. Make sure that new hires are formally introduced to HR staff members. Employees should be able to attach faces to names and know who their respective HR contacts are without having to ask their supervisors, or leaf or scroll through the employee manual.

From there, HR should continue to communicate regularly with employees as individuals and the organization as a whole. There are many ways to go about maintaining visibility and strengthening HR engagement. Conduct annual surveys to get a sense of how employees are feeling about the department. Offer “lunch and learn” seminars either hosted or led by HR to educate employees about topics such as benefits and wellness. Send out an e-newsletter with the latest HR-related news, profiles of HR staffers and other fun content.

Promote the brand

What will work best for your organization depends on its size, mission and culture. Just make sure that you’re not taking your HR department’s reputation among employees for granted. Promote its brand just as you do your own.

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