How can HR regain the lost trust of employees?

Despite their best efforts, the HR may end up losing the trust of the employees. After all, they have to act keeping in mind the interests of the employees as well as the management. And that is a challenge!

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The Human Resource department of any organisation, feeds on the trust of the employees. It acts as a guardian, protecting the employees and keeping their interests on top priority. It encourages the employees to perform their jobs effectively, while keeping a check on the issues that arise within the workplace. Yet, we hear statements such as “The HR gives us no clue of any existing opportunities of internal promotion’. Does this sound familiar? If not, then here is another one, “The HR is very biased”. Yet another common comment amongst employees is that “No point going to the HR. They will only favour the senior staff.”

These are all statements that reflect the mistrust that employees have for their HR department. While the HR seems to be available to answer queries and clarify doubts, when it comes to concrete action in response to complaints, they often fail to fulfil the expectations of the employees.

“Truthfulness and commitment are the fundamental keys to increasing employees’ faith in the HR department”

Jayant Kumar, head – HR, Adani Ports & SEZ

A stable relationship between the HR staff and the employees ensures that the work continues smoothly, but if there is any friction between them, there will arise problems in abundance.

If the employees of a company do not trust their HR department, it is likely that the manner in which they are interacting could do with some improvement. Of course, there can be a host of other issues causing the employees to lose trust in the HR.

Employee interest vs organisational interest

Amit Das, director-HR & CHRO, Bennett Coleman & Company (Times of India Group), calls HR the “conscience keeper of an organisation”. That is because, HR professionals are the ones who ”straddle company priorities and employee needs”, which can be quite a challenge.

While HR is expected to represent the employees and act in their interests, they are also required to take into account the interests of the company. The most difficult part is to show a mirror to the employee. “Employees may expect HR professionals to provide the outcome they desire. However, while providing an objective view of the situation, they may end up challenging the employees’ stand, pushing them to investigate the root causes of their issues as well as the macro situation of the organisation.”

This can lead to friction between the employees and the HR. Clearly, the issues handled by the HR department are very delicate in nature. Only those with experience and deep knowledge should even attempt to resolve them.

“Employees see HR as the voice of the management”

Jai Balan, Head – HR at Bharti AXA Life Insurance

Delicate situations

“The other increasingly emerging challenge is that quite a few of the traditional HR jobs are now being handled by line managers.” Das continues, “Managers may resent these activities when they realise they are spending more time resolving people issues than before. Not all managers are adequately equipped to handle some delicate matters or situations.”

Their inability to handle complex situations may be a big reason why the employees don’t feel comfortable interacting with them. This results in a trust crisis, as the employees just don’t know whom to approach with their problems.

Jai Balan, Head – HR at Bharti AXA Life Insurance, says that “employees see HR as the voice of the management”.

Unfulfilled expectations & promises

Employees are likely to lose trust in the HR if they feel that they’ve been given a raw deal after their recruitment. They usually become wary of the HR department if they feel their needs aren’t being looked after.

If HR executives make a promise for future compensation and benefits to the employees at the time of hiring, and do not follow up on the same, it is natural for the employees to feel betrayed.

Jayant Kumar, head – HR, Adani Ports & SEZ, points out “Truthfulness and commitment are the fundamental keys to increasing employees’ faith in the HR department.”

“To address this need, the HR in organisations can use technology and activate third-party platforms where employees and managers can go for guidance on the go”

Amit Das, director-HR & CHRO, Bennett Coleman & Company (Times of India Group)

Loss of involvement

After a short period of active involvement, HR staff may pull back or start withdrawing. They may show that they care about the employees initially, but back off after a while thinking that their work is done. This leads the employees to think that they’re being taken for granted. They feel they have been left stranded. The same HR staff that appeared so close and nderstanding may begin to appear unapproachable. They employees will not expect the HR to give them a patient hearing, and hence, will avoid approaching them altogether.

Clearly, several factors are involved when it comes to employees’ decline in trust for the HR staff, but can something be done to remedy the situation?

HOW CAN THE SITUATION BE RECTIFIED?

Extending support: Balan says that by showing their support in the employees’ time of need, HR staff can regain a considerable amount of trust. By extending the maternity leave if the employees aren’t ready to return to work, or not cutting the salary when they are aware of the employees’ personal or family crisis, the HR can establish a better connect with their employees.

Empowering HR: There are companies that empower their HR staff to look after the needs of the employees. For instance, organisations that decided to have their employees work from home during the pandemic, and even after that, gained a lot of goodwill in return because they seemed to take the wellbeing of the employees seriously.

Keeping promises: Kumar asserts that the employees’ trust in the HR staff grows through experience and mutual understanding over a period of time. The employees want to feel that they can depend on the department. For that to happen, the HR has to be transparent in terms of what they say to the employees, and how they fulfil the promises made.

Ensuring confidentiality: Das offers another possible solution to mend the disconnect — forums. “Employees are increasingly looking for forums where they can speak freely about their issues,” he points out. For instance, platforms such as Blind, and Secret (now defunct) PostSecret, and Whisper had become popular some time ago, because people needed to speak to someone anonymously. To address this need, the HR in organisations can use technology and activate third-party platforms where employees and managers can go for guidance on the go.”

For instance, “An app such as Bravely, that offers a neutral, third-party coaching and conversation solutions can be customised and deployed for employees and managers to seek possible solutions to some of their workplace issues, in confidence,” suggests Das.

However, we must accept that HR-employee and HR-manager transactions will always have positive and negative externalities.

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