Forbes Article: The Real Deal Around HR Confidentiality
The evolution of the HR world is persistently changing and continues to evolve into the “people” department. The people department, for most employees, is more than likely defined as a department that works exclusively in the best interest of them while maintaining a very high level of confidentiality.
The reality is that HR professionals are employed by the organization for the organization. HR professionals work diligently to create a balance between the needs of the organization and the needs of the employees. Unfortunately, the lack of understanding of HR’s role within organizations can create a level of distrust and/or a lack of communication.
The lack of understanding creates a challenge not only for HR professionals, but for the organization as well. I believe that if you asked any HR professional what their vision was, the response would be something along the lines of: “Our vision is to strategically discover innovative ways of attracting, developing and retaining talent within our organizations.”
As an HR professional, the idea is truly to have an open-door policy in an environment where people are comfortable sharing their truth without any form of retaliation. By creating an environment with an open-door policy, it solicits this inaccurate belief that conversations are off the record. HR professionals must become more comfortable with being forthright about the nature of their roles and responsibilities as they relate to their relationships with employees. Employees should also be mindful that HR is there to fulfill a job, which means it’s critical that employees use their best judgment when holding conversations with representatives within HR.
I believe the key to HR professionals resolving the issues distrust and/or lack of communication is to ensure that employees understand:
• That HR works in a very tough space between employees and management.
• Employees can go to HR for support in solving problems rather than as a substitute for a friend.
• There are no guarantees that a conversation with HR will be held confidential if it puts the company and others at risk.
• HR will always remain professional as a representative of the organization.
I personally believe that there is power in informing employees of HR’s role within the organization with hopes of eliminating this false sense of protection versus conveying this unwritten message that HR is this confidential department. There are certain aspects of HR that must remain confidential, including:
• Employee files with sensitive employee information.
• Health and medical information.
• Management strategy information.
To reinforce the meaning of confidentiality in the workplace, HR departments should periodically conduct confidentiality training to ensure the human resource department’s credibility and operational integrity. HR professionals must be willing to be transparent about this misconception of what confidentiality means in the workplace. It is perfectly normal to let employees know that you cannot promise confidentiality until you know the subject. HR professionals can be trusted and expected to handle situations in a way that is respectful and only informs those who may need to know.