Rebuilding Trust in the Workplace: How to Enhance HR's Relationship with Employees

Enhancing the employee experience can contribute positively to organizational growth and bridge the relationship gap between HR and employees.
Woman sitting at a desk across from two colleagues

"HR should never make friends with employees."

Have you heard that one before? If you do a quick Google search on the topic, you'll be met with site after site that warns you not to make friends with employees. While that might have been true in generations past, I have an unpopular opinion that maybe we need deeper connection and harmony in today's workforce. After all, how has this "keeping staff at arm's length" approach benefited our relationships with our colleagues and the overall perception of HR in the workplace and media?

Early on in my career I was told that HR and employees are like oil and water—we aren't supposed to mix. But as I have grown in my HR leadership journey, I've realized that HR and employees are not oil and water, HR is the secret ingredient in the recipe for employee success! Our ability to show up confident and create relational wins can be a catalyst for our career success and theirs.

You're not alone if you've felt a disconnect between yourself as an HR pro and a desire to have authentic relationships with employees. It's a common challenge that, once understood, opens up opportunities to truly transform our workplaces. By focusing on ways to enhance the employee experience and contribute positively to organizational growth, you can bridge this gap and reinforce the value of HR. Relationship comes naturally after that!

The Five Core Competencies for Rebuilding Trust in the Workplace:


Embrace the exciting evolution of HR! Today's HR landscape requires a blend of technology savvy, emotional intelligence, and business insight. Your role is pivotal—whether it's resolving service issues, anticipating organizational needs, or mastering new tools, your skills make a significant impact. I remember a time before AI when the big to-do in HR was whether we should keep HR on paper or move it to the cloud. I was able to build the trust of my colleagues and deliver value by understanding cloud software, how it can benefit our team, and ways to make training easy and approachable for all levels of the organization. In what ways do you learn and embrace new skills at work? Learning new skills will undoubtedly result in more harmony with staff who will see your efforts and their results.


Stability is a cornerstone of trust in any relationship. Strive to provide a consistent and reassuring presence in every interaction with employees. This consistency in responsiveness, professionalism, and resource reliability fortifies trust and builds your credibility as an HR leader. I chase consistency as a busy HR pro by having daily, weekly, and monthly rituals that help me connect with others. In virtual environments, it means having open coffee and chat hours with your team to learn everything happening within the organization. If you're in-person or hybrid, nothing beats walking around and connecting with people face to face—caring what they care about and remembering critical details about their lives outside of work. Whether you are consistent by nature or need help through calendar reminders and alarms, you will benefit significantly from consistency in your team visibility and reliability.


Clear communication is your ally in dispelling uncertainties and fostering an inclusive workplace. Keep policies and strategic directions transparent and accessible, and you'll see a remarkable decrease in misunderstandings and rumors. This clarity not only enhances HR's reputation but also empowers your team. Hands down, the biggest frustration I see employees have in interactions with HR is when they're left more confused or less confident in how a situation should be managed after leaving HR's office. That's anything from how to complete a tax form to how to file a formal complaint against a supervisor. As the culture carriers of the organization, we have a phenomenal opportunity to instill confidence in our team members by speaking clearly and leaving no doubts. As a children's book once said, "To be clear is to be kind." Don't we all want a bit of kindness at work?

As the culture carriers of the organization, we have a phenomenal opportunity to instill confidence in our team members by speaking clearly and leaving no doubts.




Your confidence is contagious! You can tackle workplace challenges with assurance and grace by developing a deep understanding of your strengths and actively seeking feedback. Embrace a growth mindset to advance your HR acumen continuously. How does this happen? You have to step outside of—and grow—your comfort zone! Take courses on public speaking to overcome fears of addressing crowds. Spend time with managers in different departments to understand the job functions they oversee. Build relationships with fellow HR pros to bounce ideas and know you're not alone! I became more confident in my skills as an HR pro when I met colleagues who inspired and affirmed me in my local SHRM chapter as a young professional. It's okay if you get confidence from others; that investment in you will lead to greater harmony with your employees.


Collaboration is essential. Moving beyond the misconception that HR only serves management, you can demonstrate that HR is a partner in every employee's journey. Cooperation starts with your interactions with candidates and follows through to the end of employment with outgoing colleagues. Lead with empathy, build a community around shared goals, and transparently show your contributions to the team's success. One helpful way to do this is to join and lead cross-functional committees supporting workplace culture goals. This could mean helping a workplace culture council, diversity council or other ideas. If you want your team to trust that they can work well with you on employee relations issues, building that trust first is helpful. Do so through proactive collaboration.

Every step you take to integrate these competencies into your role can profoundly impact your relationship with employees and the overall workplace atmosphere. You're not just doing a job; you're making a difference. Embrace these challenges as opportunities for rebuilding trust in the workplace and to showcase the true value of HR.

For further inspiration and tools to enhance your journey, consider the UKG Resiliency Playbook and innovative human resources solutions, which are tailored to meet the needs of today's dynamic environments.