C-suite and employees perceive that HR has become more visible as a result of the pandemic, playing a vital role in driving change, enabling remote working, and supporting well-being

Sage (FTSE: SGE), the market leader in cloud business management solutions, today released the first in a new series of reports sharing how recent events have impacted the role, expectations, and perceptions of HR and People leaders. The “HR in the moment: Changing expectations and perceptions of HR” report, which spoke to more than 1500 global HR leaders, business executives and employees, found that 87% of c-suite executives say the pandemic has accelerated changes in HR, with the function having greater influence. Further to that, 72% of HR leaders say the crisis has increased their value and wider understanding of their role across the business, while 59% feel they are now playing a more influential role in the company.

Recent events have placed huge pressure on companies and business leaders to pivot and adapt to rapidly changing priorities as a result of the ongoing disruption caused by the pandemic—and HR and People leaders have been at the forefront of this transformation. In this research report, Sage uncovered how HR leaders have fared—and compared these opinions with those of the c-suite and employees. Sage also examined how the role of technology, changing skillsets, and priorities have shifted for HR leaders. The result is a contemporary, 360-degree view of HR in today’s rapidly changing world of work.


Research findings: How has HR fared?

HR and People leaders have become more visible and influential in organisations as a result of the pandemic – but this has come at the expense of bigger workloads. 65% of HR leaders said their teams have had a leading role to play in organisations’ response to the pandemic, driving change, enabling remote working, and supporting wellbeing. However, 60% also experienced an increase in both admin and strategic tasks, as a consequence of the new HR agenda.

73% of HR leaders say the crisis has helped them demonstrate their value and increased understanding of HR’s role, as HR and People teams around the globe stepped up, leaned in, and seized the opportunity to be more flexible, responsive, and build more resilient and agile organisations as a result.


The view from the c-suite

The hard work and greater influence of HR teams have clearly been recognised by the c-suite. 58% of c-suite executives believe they have developed more appreciation for HR during the pandemic. This is vital, considering 84% of HR leaders feel that others in the organisation were previously unclear on the value HR teams brought.

Furthermore, 87% of the c-suite say the pandemic has accelerated changes in HR, although 88% of the c-suite do recognise that this is a longer-term change that started up to five years ago. There are disconnects however, with the c-suite underestimating HR leaders’ workload, and still seeing HR as too admin-focused. Despite HR leaders stating overwhelmingly that the pandemic has increased workloads, over three quarters (76%) of the c-suite don’t think HR’s workload is unmanageable.


Award winning CEO and Leadership Coach Peter Ryding, whose HRD Pathfinder Club has worked with HR Directors throughout the pandemic, believes the pandemic has highlighted the value HR brings to the boardroom.  Peter says:

“HR has always brought great value to a business, but a lot of the traditional perceptions of HR were outdated.  HR was wrongly perceived by the C-Suite as an admin function that hired and fired and kept the company compliant on holiday and sickness issues. HR is so much more, it is a critical part of any business, steering leadership from the boardroom to the shop floor and at every level in between.  The COVID-19 crisis has simply raised the profile of HR, smashing outdated stereotypes and elevating the profession.  HR Directors don’t just make great board members, they also make great CEOs – and my goal is to help increase the number of HRDs who achieve that, from the current 2% to 20%.   If anything, this recognition is overdue.”


The view from employees

Just like the c-suite, 60% of employees have noticed a change in HR’s role, such as being more involved in driving change and people-related decisions. 57% of employees also recognise the pandemic as a catalyst for these changes.

Even more importantly, more than a third of employees—even more so than the c-suite—have recognised the ability of HR teams to adapt and become more responsive as a result of the pandemic, as HR and People teams responded to constant change. Whether it’s enacting workplace safety procedures, introducing new flexible and remote working policies, placing employee wellbeing at the top of the workplace agenda, or recognising the crucial importance of managing employee experiences for a remote workforce during a time of heightened stress, HR has responded and flexed like never before. As a result of all of this, 54% of employees also say they now have improved knowledge and understanding of HR’s role and value.


HR’s accelerated digital transformation – and the skills gap

The pandemic placed a heightened focus on technology and digital transformation – but there is a lack of confidence amongst HR leaders about skills, the research also revealed.

59% of c-suite leaders said HR is even more focused on digital transformation, and 67% of HR leaders said they wanted to invest more in HR tech in the future. However, a third of HR leaders said a lack of tech (31%) and investment (36%) is holding them back from bringing their organisation into the new world of work. Worryingly, only half (53%) of HR leaders believe they have the right skills and tools for what lies ahead, demonstrating the paramount importance in investing in HR digital skills today and in the future.


Looking to the future

“HR has taken on more responsibilities and helped guide the business through ongoing disruption and accelerated digital transformation,” said Paul Burrin, Vice President of Product, Sage People. “However, this has often created additional workloads which automation can help manage, increasing HR productivity, while enabling organisations to become more agile and resilient.”

He continued: “2020 marked a year where HR’s leaders became champions of change and both executives and employees alike have realised the greater role that HR has taken on. HR and People leaders can capitalize on this and use this opportunity to cast aside older, more cumbersome ways of working to focus instead on quicker, iterative cycles of work. In this way—with the help of automation, cloud technology, and self-service—HR can focus on maintaining influence and building a more resilient workforce that is more prepared for future challenges ahead.”

To view Sage’s full report, HR in the moment: Changing expectations and perceptions of HR,” please go here.

Lisa Baker

Author Lisa Baker

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