Can HR Be Trusted to Lockdown Vulnerability and Secrets From the Employee Base?

Kris Dunn HR, Kris Dunn 1 Comment

At the end of the day, employees have to trust any HR pro enough to come forward and share bad stuff with said HR pro.  What type of bad stuff?  What type of bad stuff do your employees have?

Hate. Addiction. Family Dysfunction. Ambition. Concerns about others. Just to name a few.

All these things and more are filed under topics that employees would love to talk to someone about. Due to the role of HR, a good HR pro is a likely target for an employee to vent to.  But before they make the decision to confide in you, they have to evaluate whether you can be trusted.

More from Jennifer McClure at Unbridled Talent:

“But I do recall a conversation I had one day with an employee who was experiencing some issues at work. When I offered to listen and provide support, she said “Unfortunately, I can’t talk to you about this. It’s not that I don’t trust you personally. It’s the chair that you sit in. You have the authority to fire me. And I can’t risk that.”

After she left my office, I thought about what she’d said. I wanted to be offended. But I kinda understood where she was coming from. While it was frustrating that she wouldn’t allow me to try to help out just because of my position in the organization, I also knew that sometimes it was part of my role to be involved in making decisions about her career. So sharing a weakness or performance problem with someone who has that type of influence could be perceived as a risk.”

Go read Jennifer’s post.  Then think about the kind of HR pro you are.  I’d tell you that when it comes to employees considering whether they want to confide in you on a deep level, there are 3 types of HR pros:

  1. No way, no how. You’ve got a reputation for sharing information about others with the wrong people. You talk too much, and this is most commonly manifested by you talking about other employees to… you guessed it…. their peers – other rank and file employees.  Which causes them to wonder what you would do if they shared something deep about themselves that they’re struggling with.
  2. You haven’t ####ed it up yet. They look at you as an HR pro and see someone they shouldn’t distrust, but you haven’t earned your stripes yet as someone that can go on lockdown and be fully trusted.  At some point, someone’s going to test that, seeking to trust you and ask you for advice.  When that day comes, you’ll have to listen, offer advice, put the info in a lockbox (shoutout to Al Gore, inventor of the internet) and not share with anyone.  You know, be trustworthy.
  3. The Rock. Employees have trusted you with some bad stuff about themselves in the past. You listened, offered advice and then most importantly, locked it down.  You didn’t talk to other employees and just as importantly, didn’t share the info with their boss, other senior team members in your unit, etc.  As a result, employees talk. You’ve got a reputation as someone that can be trusted, even though the employees who share that opinion never talk about what they shared with you.

HR pros earn their reps with results – either negative or positive – when employees choose to trust them. Like the rest of the human race, some HR pros are great at building and maintaining trust, some aren’t.

My advice for any HR pro is to develop a quick script to share with any employee that approaches you and tells you they’re about to go deep.  My favorite is something related to confidentiality that suggests, “If you’re asking for confidentiality, I can tell you I can deliver that with the exception of things that are legal issues or would negatively impact our business.”

My experience is that the best HR pros usually have quite a bit of stuff on lockdown.  Do employees trust you?  That’s a fair question any HR pro should ask themselves.

Kris Dunn
Kris Dunn is a Partner and CHRO at Kinetix, a national RPO firm for growth companies headquartered in Atlanta. He's also the founder Fistful of Talent (founded in 2008) and The HR Capitalist (2007) – and has written over 70 feature columns at Workforce Management magazine. Prior to his investment at Kinetix, Kris served in HR leadership roles at DAXKO, Charter and Cingular. In his spare time, KD hits the road as a speaker and gives the world what it needs – pop culture references linked to Human Capital street smarts.

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