Being an HR professional doesn’t make you a “company man” but can put you in the uncomfortable position of being a “middle man.” Representing both managers and employees can place a strain on your ability to be consistent, fair, and available to those around you. Against such strain, how does HR gain trust in the workplace? What can you do to build meaningful relationships with both employees and managers while supporting the best interests of the business?
Fielding questions about benefits, open job requisitions, and your onboarding program are fairly mundane and typically garner the same response. However, things become tricky when dealing with flexible work scheduling, investigations, and performance management issues. HR matters are not always black and white, and one answer doesn’t fit every situation.
Often times, we are faced with challenges and are unsure of the best solution. You may not have the best answer right away, but it’s always best to be consistent by focusing on the following:
1. The Message. Be consistent in the way you respond to employees. Be careful not to give conflicting messages or viewpoints. For example, you may want to be super helpful to a senior manager and may be willing to “bend the rules” to accommodate her request for a late benefit enrollment, but are unwilling to do the same for an employee who is going through a difficult personal situation and forgot about the deadline. Doing so is a recipe for a distrustful environment.
2. The Perspective. Sure, perspectives change based on the situation. However, be aware of your personal values as well as those of the organization. If you continually change your stance on beliefs and core values depending on who you’re speaking with, people will quickly learn that you are not consistent and therefore, not reliable.
3. The Determination. It’s easy to drop something when a senior leader calls and needs your attention. However, it’s more difficult to make time for other employees that may appear less important or have less clout in the organization. Be consistent in the level of effort you provide to all that you are responsible for supporting.
Some employees may have the impression that HR professionals are also “secret keepers”—that they can approach HR with anything, and that the discussion will be kept secret and confidential. If this has occurred in the past and you have direct experience with being a “sounding board” or “therapist,” work to limit these types of discussions. Be fair in your response regarding gossip about others and personal matters that may land on your office desk.
As much as we like to help others, our responsibility is to ensure that the organization meets business goals. If you find yourself in a conversation that does not have direct impact on organizational success, be fair and explain that while you are trying to be supportive, some conversations are best kept outside of the workplace. Do not attempt to take sides or “play favorites” as this can weaken your credibility as an HR leader.
Being available means more than just showing up; it means being an active participant in the work and providing value in all you do. The following are points to consider:
• Establish good working relationships with those you support. • Be open and honest in your discussions. • Build credibility through your ability to anticipate needs and provide valuable business solutions. • Be available for meetings in which you will gain a greater understanding of goals and actions needed to help the organization reach success. Use mobile HR software or employee engagement software to respond to questions even while out of the office or away from your desk. • Be present. • Listen. • Demonstrate understanding.
Be consistent. Be Fair. Be Available… Three great ways to establishing credibility and building trust.