Do You Trust HR?

A couple weeks ago, I was talking to a friend about HR. He said that my job must be really difficult since no one trusts HR.

I always find this topic quite interesting because it’s true.

I was in a meeting around culture and inclusion at my employer and I was the “Lone HR Ranger” and there was a lot of beef about how people don’t trust HR.

So, with this is mind, I said to my friend:

“I don’t think there are a lot of people in my field who would admit to this, but I think people distrust HR because in most organizations HR serves management first, rather than the associate.”

I find this to be so incredibly true in my experience. Very rarely do we take the extra time to find out both sides to the story. We don’t create a 360-degree vision while solving employee relation issues. Sometimes the metrics speak for themselves: Are they meeting their numbers? Are customers complaining? Are they actually working? In those cases, fine, I get it. That’s clearly a performance management issue there. Case closed.

But, stepping back and thinking through conversations I’ve had with friends who don’t work in HR at my employer and with friends at other organizations, people flat out do not feel comfortable bringing issues to light to HR because they believe their job will be in jeopardy, no one will listen or the story will be turned around on them.

I personally find myself on the fence around this issue.

There isn’t a perfect answer. One side of me says, “HR is here for the employee.” The employee is obviously defined as management AND non-management. The “employee” is anyone who works for the employer. I’m not writing this because I feel like I have the answers. In fact, I don’t have any answers at all.

However, here are some things to think about:

  1. We have to create a 360-degree vision around employee-related issues in HR.
  2. How well do we honor the confidentiality of the employee? Are we giving them reason to not trust HR?
  3. Do we create a sense of safety so they feel like they CAN trust HR? How often have you received a phone call where the employee doesn’t even want to tell you his/her name?
  4. Are we listening as an ally with the employee? I mean, really listening. Listen first, talk second.

I said it before, and I’ll say it again, I do not have the answers and this is only my experience. So tell me – does your HR organization work mostly for management or the associate or BOTH?

Can HR be trusted?

Photo credit iStock Photo

About the Author

Cindy Janovitz

Cindy Janovitz works for a great Fortune 500 company in Minnesota. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Organizational Communications and Spanish from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. Cindy has a passion for working with and helping people and a love for organizational culture. Three words Cindy uses to describe herself are energetic, passionate, and driven. You can connect with Cindy on Twitter as @cindyelizabeth


Paula Southerland

I think in order for a organization to have a good HR department the personnel their should attend some kind of sensitivity training to avaiod negative image.

Jane B.

Perhaps the name of the department (which has currently morphed to “human capital”) says it all…for if you really really pick apart the meaning of this phase it sounds like something the company owns, it’s capital which just so happens to be human, which I suppose is a fancy way to subtly imply the Company is the master and the employee is the slave. With that, HR is not so much the enemy once the employee understands their function is NOT to address employee issues as much as it is protect the master, the Company.

I mean, yes, HR is there to forward you to the third party phone number that is reponsible for providing you with the self-service website where you will initiate your own health insurance and 401K plans..but…if you have a serious problem, something that would open the Company to a lawsuit…well…HR is just there to protect the company from being sued. Most of the time this will result in the employee being put on a performance plan with impossible goals so that a paper trail can be created in lieu of firing them. See HR is not your enemy, you just misunderstood their role. Remember you are not a human…you are human “capital”.

T Pretorius

definetly not!!! dont trust them at all!! they talk behind your back to other co-workers and most of the time they run to management and bad mouth you!!!

Yolanda U

I just finished writing a paper stating how HR professionals were once viewed as “the enemy” because they were only seen when someone was hired or fired. Then I expressed through my times of employment and grad school that HR is currently presenting themselves more to employees via training, development, focus groups, team building, etc. Having this continuous involvement with employees gives them a positive look at HR professionals and the open door policy to express their thoughts and feelings on any presenting issues and concerns. I also see them becoming more involved in strategic plans to assure the company stays aligned with their mission, vision and goals making them business partners in their own organizations. On the contrast they need to present this information to staff and whether employees may like the new changes or not, HR needs to have effective communication with their staff to understand the changes taking place and also have the ability to confront those who disagree. As an HR Professional they need to be flexible, determine what is best for both the company and the employees, be able to adjust and have the ability to provide new ideas to a constantly changing job market. Whether the company is small or large it is important to keep its stakeholders happy and make sure the company is in alignment with its strategic plan, policies and procedures. So I feel that HR professionals are favorable of both the company and its employees. You have to keep both happy to have an effective work environment and to evolve in this constantly changing work environment.


As an HR professional, I work for the company. At the end of the day, my advice and counsel are all about what is in the company’s best interest because HR serves the business first and foremost. Sometimes this is in line with the employee and sometimes this is in line with management.

Debbie Brown

As a manager, I trust HR to look at all sides of any situation. The manager has experiences for many things, the reality is, HR sees things repeatedly and has expertise we rely on for things we do not see every day. The trust breaks down, in my opinion, when the communication is not professional (timely, respectfully) all the way around. Typically that is when things break down for all with the issue at hand.



I think you have raised a very valid point. My experience is similar to yours where HR has been seen as the enemy by employees and the annoying gate keeper of policy by senior management. My experience has been with large organisations and I recognise that the situation can be different with smaller organisations.

As a learning and development specialist I have often found myself in the middle where I am conscious of delivering on the business plan and managing employee needs and wants. It’s a challenge.

I have been able to successfully navigate my way through this by listening to all parties, asking questions to seek clarification and always, always keeping the big picture in mind. For me, L&D has always been about relationship building (with everyone) and influencing to avoid the “us” and “them” mentality.

Thank you for the post – I found it very real and honest and I like that!


I’m assuming you work for a large company. This is very different issue at a small-to-mid-sized company where HR knows everyone and vice versa. Obviously, gossip-y, flakey HR won’t be trusted by anyone, whether the company is large or small. But when you’re working with an employee count that never exceeds 100 people, trust is much easier to build given the amount of daily face time I have with my co-workers. Just in those daily interactions, employees see that I’m not a management stooge, and management sees that I’m not a kumbaya HR practitioner who will sacrifice business sense for warm fuzzies.

John Jorgensen

Wow, don’t know where to start on this one. Your quote throws me in that you are inferring that HR shouldn’t serve management frist. HR is part of management, period. We represent the company’s best interests when it comes to human capital. Sometimes that does include taking an employee’s side on an issue but first and foremost we must do what is best for the company. We must be honest with an employee on that up front and not create any false expectations that we are “on their side” or that all matters can be kept confidential. I think that a majority of trust issues with HR comes from not being frank on these issues. You can’t always tell people what they want to hear, but you cannot mislead them.

That does not mean I don’t look into all issues brought to me with a clear and unbiased view. To best represent the company, I have to look at all issues and resolve them in the proper manner. Nothing is served by ignoring valid employee complaints and comments about the company.


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