Recently, I posted an article on LinkedIn from Harvard Business Review called How HR Lost Employees’ Trust — and How to Get It Back. It was thought-provoking to me and provided some insights to areas where we need to improve how HR operates. While this has always been a passion of mine over my career, I’ve been nothing short of flabbergasted at the number of responses I received and the depth of interest in the topic similar to my own.
There have been 645 comments at the time of writing this, of which a large number are more like the length of a letter. Not to mention 210 reposts and 1,400 people noting they liked it. I’ve been pondering what makes this article of so much interest to people.
In reading through the comments, I found some categories of perspectives worth noting:
Proponents of HR as advocates
A number of interesting comments reflected a sentiment that HR would be of best service if it successfully advocated for team members. Not doing so causes the very problems some might deem HR in charge of protecting against. Specifically, if organizations are concerned about lawsuits or disgruntled employees, having a strong and trusting relationship with HR is essential to overcoming these concerns. One reason it’s so important is that when HR fails to support everyone, individuals can end up looking outside the organization for someone to protect their interests.
Defining HR as protectors of the organization
A number of the letters relayed the perspective that HR should be a protector of the organization and not necessarily a support function for the employees. In fact, many of these responses noted it would be better to actually clarify that the role of HR is to protect the company’s interests. Others had somewhat different ideas about the function of HR but, to some degree or another, did not see the lack of trust to be an issue.
Those hurt by HR
These letters tended to be some of the longest ones and the hurt in them was almost palpable. I couldn’t help but be moved by the types of experiences people shared and how deeply hurt they must have been (and for many, still are).
What this reflects is that when people have come to HR with some trust and expectation of being supported and were deeply disappointed, they became disillusioned with the function and the organization. If some organizations use HR to protect the organization and not to advocate for team members, it makes sense to communicate that more clearly to prevent people from having an expectation that won’t be met. Some of those that proposed HR not be seen as an advocate might be aligned with organizations taking this approach and being more transparent in their position.
Fans of HR
These letters were from people who described positive experiences with the function. These were the easiest to read and the most uplifting. They were less about HR theory and more about simply sharing the value they had received either from a leadership or specific HR professional that had made valuable contributions and been quite helpful.
Insights to make HR stronger/advocating for change
Some of the responses were interesting in how they detailed specific improvements that are needed for HR to enhance the value or service provided. Specific improvements referred to strengthening the positioning and skills for HR to better advocate for employees. These suggestions align with the view that improving HR for both the business and the people within the organization includes ensuring internal resources are ready and available.
Some immediate takeaways
While I won’t be forgetting about these letters anytime soon, I’d like to share some immediate takeaways.
- My belief is that stronger, more well-developed HR professionals are good for the evolution of this function to support increasingly engaged and positive work environments.
- Organizations that haven’t positioned HR to be advocates for employees would be well served to be careful of creating that illusion and a missed expectation. However, I still believe this could lead to the negative consequences they seek to prevent. It’s worth noting the level of interest and concern with how HR professionals have or have not provided the type and level of service needed.
No matter what the perspective, many comments showed a real passion and interest that can be used to drive improvement over time. For those of you who reviewed some of the comments, what were your impressions? Why do you think people are so passionate or interested in the topic of HR being trusted?
In reading the comments, it struck me that there’s something worth studying and learning based on all of this commentary. If any of you have thoughts or ideas about what might be some next steps, I’d be interested to hear them.
Kudos for sharing the article and sharing these insights plus your observations from the many comments received.
Though in many positions I have worked adjacent and sometimes in collaboration with HR, my more recent studies and experience have me on the organization development track for reasons stated. We are whole system and employee focused and are best positioned separate from HR, though we often find ourselves landing in HR as T&D where we often feel the loss of trust from employees who feel managed by HR and developed only as a means to that endeavor.
Truly a difficult transformation to address. I appreciate the honest approach of making it clear who HR represents. I find it hard envision success straddling advocacy and management of employees.
Hopefully you are thoroughly enjoying your time on the OD track. Over my years of work, many of my most treasured experiences have been in OD related initiatives and and most of my dearest friends are all in that line of work too. I believe that HR professionals who build their OD skills become stronger in how they straddle their roles with a more systems minded approach.
Appreciate your comments.