There’s no dodging the fact that it’s been a difficult couple of years for most. Amid a worsening recession, a deepening cost of living crisis and shifting priorities following the pandemic, businesses may be about to see retention rates take a hit.

In fact, with many once-burgeoning industries now seeing mass layoffs, many people are already preparing for the worst – from career cushioning and creating a backup plan to, in some cases, applying for new roles completely. And, since our recent report showed job insecurity as the current biggest cause of turnover, it could be argued that HR should be more focused than ever on improving staff retention. However, therein lies a problem…

hr build trust

When it comes to keeping staff on board, the employer-employee relationship is fundamental. As with any relationship, it needs to be built on a solid foundation of trust. It can’t however, simply be ‘switched on’. So, how can HR build meaningful levels of trust within a business?

How does building trust improve retention?

First and foremost, employees who have trust in their HR teams (and in their ability to help in times of crisis) are more likely to voice concerns as they arise, rather than simply hand in their notice once issues compound. When employees know that leadership have their best interests at heart, they’ll be more likely to stick around and champion change for a better workplace.

What’s more, employees who trust their leadership teams – particularly when it comes to communicating major changes amid a recession – are less likely to be preoccupied with anxiety and emergency planning. Instead, attention can be turned to development, to personal growth, and to adapting to any changes as they come, making for better productivity long-term.

Like many elements of company culture, trust can be difficult to define: but, that doesn’t make it impossible to improve. So, if you’re looking to build a stronger foundation of trust in your organisation, here are a few things to keep in mind…

1. Focus on transparency

In the current financial climate, it makes sense that employees want to be kept in the loop about business decisions. Genuine, honest communications about new initiatives, schemes, and changes to working practices should be shared in good time for staff to process and adapt.

Important to remember, too, is that this doesn’t just include positive announcements. Whilst leaders should, of course, take care to follow through on the things they commit to, circumstances can unexpectedly change. When this happens. careful communication on the reasons why, as well as potential next steps, could make a big difference to the employee response.

The bottom line is, your employees are at the heart of your business – and deserve to be treated as such! Transparent, well-communicated leadership can dictate whether a workforce is prepared to adapt and take change in its stride, or left waiting for the next bombshell to drop.

2. Keep it confidential

Although confidentiality should be a base-level priority for HR – particularly when it comes to data protection and privacy – it’s worth remembering that the sensitive handling of private data, employee issues, and workplace concerns is an important step in building trust, too.

Perhaps most obviously, this applies to data compliance. Is personal information stored in such a way that it can be accessed only by those who need it? GDPR-compliant HR software can help with keeping employees’ personal data safe, and make it quicker and easier for individuals to update their own information as necessary.

Equally important when it comes to confidentiality is making sure private matters are dealt with, well, privately! If you’re looking to build a culture in which employees trust senior leaders to handle concerns, sensitive conversations should take place behind closed doors, not in the staff kitchen or break room.

3. Be visible to your workforce

In our Psychology of Relationship Building report, it was discovered that just 55% of employees would be able to recognise a member of their own company’s HR team. Those who said they would recognise HR, however, were also reported to have a higher level of trust in their HR team: particularly when it came to managing conflict.

So, while it can be easy to hide in the shadows (particularly when the workload is high), it’s vital that HR, as well as other business leaders, make an effort to be visible to the workforce.

This is where internal communications, such as responding to emails, checking in directly with staff, and making an appearance around the office, can make a real difference. Do employees know who they should reach out to if they have a concern on any given subject? Incorporating this information into your onboarding process, or even setting up a workspace document with key contacts, will help out here.

4. Don’t neglect inclusivity

It’s well documented that marginalised communities often suffer most when it comes to difficult financial periods. So, how can you reassure employees that you’ll be making the best decisions for everyone on board?

Actions speak louder than words when it comes to inclusivity practices – and our own research found that HR teams seen championing D&I were consistently rated higher across a number of different trust factors.

If your business is being forced to scale back in the current financial climate, consider how you can continue your D&I efforts – even on a reduced budget. A diverse workforce has benefits for all, and a focus on D&I will remain important long after the economic landscape improves.

Chloe Turner author image

Chloe Turner

Graduating from the University of South Wales, Chloe is an experienced content marketing manager who's worked across the HR and legal business sectors.

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