top of page



Elizabeth Fuss Arnott, SPHR  I have been working in Human Resources for 23 years. Since 2011, I have been certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR).  I have a BA in English and a Master of Jurisprudence in Labor and Employment Law from Tulane Law School. I live in the Pacific Northwest with my husband Luke and our cat, Poirot. I write about HR, non-profits, the art of managing people and Neurodiversity in the workplace. I'm available for employment, contract work, consulting, coaching and training virtually and in the Portland, OR area. Please email me at for more information. 

  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Arnott, SPHR

How to Build Trust and Earn Respect as an HR Leader

HR has a bad reputation. You can't trust HR. HR just does whatever the company wants. HR sets employees up for retaliation and failure by not handling complaints well. HR protects managers. I've heard all of it. But here's the good news: If you care and are willing to do hard things, you can rise above these generalizations and be a compassionate, trusted and respected HR practitioner with both employees and with managers and executive leadership.

1. Under-promise and over-deliver.

Don't promise things you can't deliver on. For example, never promise confidentiality. You are likely going to need to break that promise if you make it - so just don't make it. You can promise objectivity. You can promise thoroughness. You can set realistic deadlines and meet them. You can promise to provide help and ideas for problem resolution, personality conflicts and other day to day issues.

2. Follow through on your commitments.

If you promise to follow up, make sure you do. Keep meeting times. Be on time. Be present.

3. Be objective in all things.

Don't have built-in loyalties. Forget all your assumptions. When you are listening to someone, be present. Don't take sides before you hear all the information. Don't socialize with employees. Make sure you have a strong support network outside of work so that you can be operate without depending on work friendships for personal happiness.

4. Speak up and take a stand for the right things.

This is a hard one for lots of people. Especially when faced with their supervisor, CEO, etc. It doesn't mean that they will follow your advice, but speak up on issues of ethics, regulations, risk. Be known as the person that will always speak up for what's right and make sure that the company leadership is aware of obligations, ethical issues and legal risks. Know your own limits for risk and what your dealbreakers are. Stand by those limits.

5. Have difficult conversations.

Be upfront. Don't avoid accountability discussions. Don't sugarcoat information. Be clear, concise, blunt and realistic about performance, perception and potential. Be bold with leaders and employees alike.

6. Promote accountability at all levels.

Don't shy away from accountability discussions with executives, leaders, managers or employees. Sometimes it's going to be hard and you won't be liked. But if it's your responsibility to speak with them, don't hide. Be bold. Accountability at all levels is necessary for the company to be successful. Help other leaders have accountability discussions.

7. Communicate, communicate, communicate.

When in doubt, communicate. Follow up. Question. Listen. Communicate clearly, honestly and with confidence.

8. Promote happiness and self-preservation at all levels.

This may seem counter-intuitive, but I have found it to be essential in every HR role I've been in. Remind employees that only they know what they need, and that you need them to tell you what they need so that you can help them. Remind people that they are the most important element in the relationship between company and employee and that they must take care of themselves first. If the potential for success is not great for an employee - be honest. I've encouraged people to explore other options, even take the afternoon off for interviews. If we can help them find happiness, it's only going to be beneficial for everyone involved, including the company and the employee.

9. Remember that you are dealing with people.

As you go through making payroll, benefit and policy decisions, remember that your employees and leaders are people. Real, human people with lives, families, personal issues, health issues and financial issues. Be kind. Be compassionate. Lead with your heart.

This isn't a complete list of everything we need to do to be respected and trusted. But it's a good start. We can all do better. And while we are hired by employers, I truly believe that the best way to support the employer is to support the employees and to help them succeed.

bottom of page