Distrust In HR Department And What Can Be Done To Solve It

Some crisis situations burst on the scene and are in plain view for the world to see. Others can simmer for months or years out of sight, out of mind and under the radar of corporate executives.

The distrust that employees have in their company’s HR staff is an example of a simmering internal crisis that can boil over and scald the image, reputation and credibility of organisations and their leaders.

But before business leaders can address the problem, they need to understand what’s causing it.

‘A Natural Distrust’

Rachel Fiset is the managing partner of law firm Zweiback, Fiset & Coleman. She said, ‘’Employees have traditionally had a natural distrust for human resources because the department generally prioritises the company over the employee.

‘’Human resources will often field complaints by employees — but the actual response to the complaints may look like the company is only working to ensure its own legal compliance in a given situation and not to improve the employee’s working conditions,’’ she noted.

Serving The Bottom Line

HR consultant Claire Brummell observed that, “Many HR departments can be seen to approach employees as little more than a resource to serve the needs of the corporate bottom line, where the needs of the leaders, departments and business are considered and prioritized over that of, and often to the detriment [of], the needs of the employees.

“HR Departments that function from this place of utilising humans as little more than another expendable business resource have already failed their employees and will garner their distrust.”

Insights From Surveys

Two surveys provide these important insights into the trust problem.

Human relations platform Cezanne HR recently surveyed over 1,000 workers at organisations with more than 250 employees in the UK. They found that:

  • Almost half (47%) of employees don’t trust HR to help with conflict resolution.
  • 48% don’t trust HR to make them aware of internal promotion opportunities.
  • More than two in five (45%) of respondents don’t believe HR will act impartially, while 43% believe senior staff members are favoured.

Last year, U.S.-based Zeneefits, an HR, payroll and benefits company, released a report called “Human Resources: Helpful or Horrible?” According to their research:

  • 38% of employee respondents feel HR does not equally enforce company policies for all employees, with 18% of that group believing managers get special treatment.
  • 71% of HR employees in the survey stated that less than 30% of complaints they received in the last 2 years resulted in any disciplinary action. Having less than a third of cases result in disciplinary action led employees to wonder — if they bring complaints forward, will anything even result?

Historical Bias

Lesa Hammond is a 30-year veteran of HR and was the chief human resources officer at three universities. She is now an instructor in the HR certificate program at San Francisco State University and CEO of workplace platform Attaché for Business.

She pointed out that, “Much of the distrust in HR come from an historical bias employees and management hold or a lack of transparency by the HR department. If the leadership of the company, of which HR should be a part, does not have respect for the department, it is not given much power and becomes a bureaucratic bottleneck, rather than a strategic problem solver.

“Employees also lose faith in HR when they come with a problem and it appears it is being held against them or nothing seems to be happening regarding the problem,’’ she commented.

Unequal Treatment Of Co-Workers

Employment attorney Jonathan LaCour, of Employees First Labor Law said many of the cases he handles lead straight back to problems in a company’s human resources department.

“One common reason employees distrust HR is that they see unequal treatment of co-workers due to friendships or connections within the company, or because of someone’s status as a manager. Company handbooks almost always state that human resources policies will be implemented fairly, consistently and impartially. Everyone can see when it’s not,” he observed.

Lack Of Qualifications

LaCour noted that, “Another area where companies create problems for employees and themselves is when they put people in charge of human resources who have no business being there. In one recent case, a man with no experience in human resources was hired to help run the department. He turned out to be an aggressive sexual harasser and cost the company a lot of money.

“In another case, a company with 160 employees made a payroll accountant their human resources manager — for half a day every week. This person had no prior experience in anything HR related and was impossible for employees to get hold of. And when they handed out advice, it was entirely ignorant of applicable law,” he recalled.


Sue Lingard, marketing director of Cezanne HR said, “HR teams have to get out and get in front of employees—and do it on a regular basis. The research found that the better-known they are, the higher the level of trust, and that’s good for the way the whole business works together.

“Start with the onboarding processes, but then ensure there are other opportunities where HR can be seen by more people. Perhaps by championing diversity, equity and inclusion or climate change initiatives, hosting drop-in days or sitting in on wider team meetings,” she advised.


Sebastien Anderson is the founding partner of Labour Rights Law Office in Canada. He recommended that HR staff be transparent about their role and refrain from misleading employees that the HR department is on their side or is their friend. “In my experience, too many naive employees believe that HR advisors are like neutral ombudspersons troubleshooting potential conflict between an employee and their manager(s),” he observed.

“HR advisors who mislead employees about their role give all HR professionals a bad name and seed distrust between employees and management,” Anderson concluded.

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Bad Employees and their Toxic Effects

The saying goes that one bad apple can ruin the whole bunch. Interestingly enough, it is the same with employees. The effects of bad employees or ‘hurricane’ employees, as they are also known, can be visible in companies of any size and industry.  Even though this type of person initially impresses in the interview phase, underperforming employees now represent a serious threat to your business.

But just how dangerous are these employees? Well, given the 2013 CareerBuilder survey done on 6,000 hiring managers and HR professionals, it has been discovered that 27% of U.S. employers who had employed a ‘bad apple’, claimed that one bad hire eventually cost their business more than $50,000. This is a financial strain no business should bear. Additionally, the majority of businesses have more than just one bad employee in their ranks.

Recent research done on how contagious ‘hurricane’ employees can be, has revealed that even the most ethical of employees may begin embracing misconduct if they work alongside a dishonest individual for too long. It may be nice to think that the honest employees would instil some moral values into the dishonest employees, that is rarely the case.

For managers and executives, it is extremely important to realise that the money involving an underperformer go far beyond the effects it has on that particular employee– bad behaviour can easily ‘spill over’ into the minds of the other employees through basic peer effect. If organisations choose to under-appreciate the consequences of these spill-overs, a few ill-mannered employees can infect any strong corporate culture.

Nevertheless, through observing similar behaviour among staff, it does not explain how and why this similarity even occurs. Co-workers could behave similarly because of peer effects – in which workers learn behaviours or social norms from each other – but similar behaviour could arise because co-workers face the same incentives or because individuals prone to making similar choices naturally choose to work together.

Below, you take a look at some of the more hidden ways in which bad employees can hurt businesses, and why it is imperative to let them go in order to reach personal and company goals.

  1. Negative organisational reputation

One of the most destructive ways in which ‘hurricane’ employees can harm organisations is by destroying its reputation. A business’s reputation takes years on end to establish, and, unfortunately, one poor-performance employee may derail all of that hard work for quality products, services, and professionalism.

It goes without saying that unprofessional customer service or products lacking that lack that level of excellence expected from any business could leave clients and customers disgruntled. Furthermore, this makes them associate poor service and bad quality with the brand. A damaged reputation takes years to bounce back from and in some extreme cases, it is irreversible.

  1. Low levels of employee morale

Besides the fact that bad employees hurt a company’s bottom line, they also drive employee morale to worryingly low levels. This may even occur in the best performing employees. In this scenario, the rest of the team has to pick up the pace due to one’s person unproductiveness, which, consequently, causes the top talents to become disengaged, dissatisfied, or even burnout. This may sound eerie but only one member on the team may cause the entire staff to become frustrated, angry and detached, leading, of course, to cohesion and morale issues, extreme defensiveness and, in some particular cases, a tendency to ignore creative ideas.

This is definitely a case in which managers must take the tough decision and remove harmful employees from the office environment in order for the HR department to focus its efforts on finding a team member willing to work hard.

  1. Daily interruptions

‘Hurricane’ employees also have the tendency to refuse thinking for themselves and solve their problems independently which, in turn, causes workflow interruptions for managers and executives alike. Instead of focusing on issues such as performance and engagement, managers are forced to hand-hold the harmful employee through menial daily tasks. The damage this type of person may do is not only contagious, but it often shows in team performance. In a recent study done at the Rotterdam School of Management, has revealed that one negative employee can “literally cause” a 30% to 40% drop in performance levels.

Of course, this leads to losing productivity at management-level as well, because managers are unable to implement new ideas and initiatives due to the constant supervision they have to undertake with the ‘hurricane’ employee. Even though firing someone who isn’t performing at normal standards is an uncomfortable experience altogether, managers have to ask themselves if they are willing to lose professionally due to one individual. The moment when a manager starts to think about what is best for the organisation, the decision will become all the more clear.

By understanding how and why co-workers make similar choices about committing misconduct can steer managers into preventing misconduct. Misconduct is a product of social interaction and given its nature, knowledge and social norms it may be difficult to spot at first. Generally speaking, if managers can achieve the level of understanding required to why co-workers behave in similar ways has enormous implications for understanding how corporate culture is shaped and how managers can help steer it in the right direction.

There is a real value in providing companies with the tools to carry out regular organisational assessments and this is where Great People Inside comes to your aid. Our online platform offers the best solutions and tools for your company to thrive in every type of industry and any possible situation your organisation may find itself. In terms of lowering your employee turnover rates, we recommend our GR8 Full Spectrum assessment for hiring and 360° Survey for retention. Finding the right talent, the best fit for the job and your organisation can be a very challenging task. It requires deep knowledge of your own organisation’s culture and a keen understanding of the candidate’s personality, strengths, interests, work style and other characteristics. Our technology and solutions will do the work for you, helping you find employees who can flourish and reach the highest performance required to constantly bring your company forward.

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