August 13, 2020

Survey Asks What Americans Really Think of HR — and the Answer Isn’t Great


We all know that HR is critical to the success of any business. HR professionals drive people strategy and act as the go-to resource for employees when workplace issues that threaten to derail productivity or damage well-being arise.

Yet despite HR’s integral role, many employees and organizational leaders have mixed feelings about the department. While many HR specialists pour every ounce of their energy into enhancing the employee experience for all, many workers and managers are still dissatisfied with how some common workplace concerns are handled.

We at Zety polled 926 Americans to get a better understanding of how the country’s workforce feels about HR. Do employees trust HR pros to have their backs? Here’s what our survey respondents had to say:

HR, We Have a Problem

We put together a list of scenarios, and then we asked the respondents about which matters they’d feel comfortable reporting to HR. As it turns out, a lot of employees would hesitate to bring a wide range of issues to HR’s attention. Here are some of the scenarios we asked about, followed by the percentage of respondents who said they would not report the scenario to HR:

Personal Issues

• A loved one passing away (86 percent)
• Going through a divorce (92 percent)
• Going through a breakup (95 percent)

Work Issues

• Reversing a decision made by a younger manager (69 percent)
• Being passed over for promotion (72 percent)
• Resume advice (76 percent)
• Legal advice (82 percent)

Coworker Issues

• Interpersonal challenges with a direct manager (57 percent)
• Interpersonal challenges with a colleague (63 percent)
• Coworker sleeping with a boss (85 percent)
• Coworker’s behavior on social media (94 percent)

Criminal Issues

• Being a victim of sexual harassment (36 percent)
• Witnessing sexual harassment (38 percent)
• Witnessing discrimination at work (43 percent)
• Coworker stealing company property (60 percent)
• Coworker coming in under the influence of drugs (62 percent)

While sexual harassment and discrimination were more likely to be reported to HR than many other scenarios, a sizable chunk of respondents still said they wouldn’t alert HR to these problems. Why? Some employees expressed worry about retaliation, while others — especially female respondents — said their complaints likely would not be taken seriously.

HR pros, this should be a wake-up call. Some employees in your company probably believe your department only acts in the company’s best interests. It may be time to assess your departmental operations to see if their concerns are grounded in reality.

As for employees, even if you don’t believe the HR department will have your back on matters of harassment or discrimination, you can and should still report these incidents to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

When Do Employees Trust HR?

There may be a lot of scenarios in which employees don’t turn to HR for help, but there’s one matter in particular that does drive employees to reach out to HR. When it comes to problems with payroll and benefits, 82 percent of employees say they’ll ask HR for help.

The reason? Taking a hit to the wallet is always a vital concern. People tend to stand up for their paychecks because they simply have to, especially in today’s challenging economy. Most employees have little to no confidence in their HR teams being able to clear workplace roadblocks, but when it comes to pay and benefits, they believe HR can actually make some headway.

What HR Teams Can Do to Build Trust

Based on the above findings, one thing is clear: HR departments are not universally treating employees as their top-value assets. That’s a problem, because when employees do feel valued, they’re more engaged and more productive — and the business is more profitable as a result.

So how can HR departments turn their reputations around? For starters, HR teams must encourage managers and leaders to get involved in the HR function, especially as it relates to the employee experience. If the people who directly oversee employees are invested in their teams, they will better harness the expertise of their staff members to drive company goals while providing a more engaging employee experience all around. When leaders and managers take on some of HR’s responsibilities, they not only alleviate the pain points of HR pros, but they also create a work environment that prioritizes culture, communication, and collaboration.

Another critical step is for the HR department to really embrace transparency. This involves regularly communicating with employees about organizational aims and updates and keeping employees informed about the steps HR is taking to improve the employee experience. This engenders more trust among employees, and employees who trust the organization are more likely to trust HR as well.

HR must also work with leaders and managers to lay out clear career paths for employees. When workers know how to move up the ladder, they have more of a reason to put in the effort.

Lastly, it’s good practice to tap into the power of employee survey tools to regularly collect feedback. Keep surveys anonymous so that workers can be honest without fearing backlash, and be sure to use the feedback workers provide to make concrete improvements to the workplace.

Max Woolf is a writer passionate about helping people land their dream jobs through expert industry coverage.

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Max Woolf is a writer. He's passionate about helping people land their dream jobs through expert career industry coverage. In his spare time, Max enjoys biking and traveling to European countries.