Survey Suggests Many Employees Don’t Trust HR

Most complaints to human resources departments don’t lead to disciplinary action
An unhappy office employee

Human resources (HR) departments are meant to handle recruitment, hiring and employee concerns, but a new survey indicates that some employees consider HR to be more of a threat than a help.

HR services provider Zenefits surveyed 526 employees of small and mid-sized businesses, along with 302 HR professionals, to see how workers feel about human resources and how they use HR services.

They learned that many workers don’t see the human resources department as an employee advocate at all. In fact, 20% of respondents said they don’t trust HR at their current company or that they’ve had their trust broken by HR in a previous workplace.

In some cases, those surveyed said they had avoided going to HR for a workplace concern. Among the reasons given:

  • 38% said the issue seemed too minor to bother.
  • 35% said they didn’t trust HR to help them.
  • 31% said they feared retaliation from within the workplace.

Many believe their distrust is well justified. For example, 23% of employees said they have witnessed or experienced discrimination, “hurtful” management behaviors or poor HR policies.

On top of that, 38% said HR does not enforce company policies equally among all employees, with 18% of them saying managers are treated better than other workers.

Findings show HR complaints spark little action

Another reason confidence in HR departments may be low is because many complaints don’t lead to any noticeable change.

Among HR employees surveyed, 83% said they receive at least one complaint each month, and 32% said they typically receive more than five per month. However, a whopping 71% of HR employees said less than 30% of complaints they’ve received over the past two years have led to any disciplinary action.

An employee's relationship with their boss isn’t always smooth, and this can color their view of the workplace. According to the survey, employee interactions with their manager and co-workers spark the biggest problems for workers seeking HR’s help.

When asked which issues they do take to HR, a quarter of respondents said they most frequently go to human resources to report conflicts they are having with colleagues or managers.

While a human resources department is there to help employees handle complicated situations, there are steps you can take to possibly make your experience with HR better. If you are having a conflict with a co-worker, keep all emails and document everything so you have more evidence to show HR that can back up your claim.

Also, if you speak to a human resources representative and you don’t see any action taken, you may want to follow up about the situation, possibly with an HR employee with more seniority.

Tamara E. Holmes

Tamara E. Holmes is a Washington, DC-based writer who covers personal finance, entrepreneurship and careers.