HR’s star was on the ascendant during the pandemic, as practitioners guided their organizations through everything from the intricacies of furlough to the pivot to hybrid working. But two years on, as we learn to live with COVID-19, have the advances the HR profession made in terms of impact and influence been sustained?
The answer from respondents to the 2022 HR Most Influential survey was a resounding yes – although with some provisos.
Practitioners felt that employers were taking HR much more seriously and were giving them a greater voice in developing business strategies. “More C-Suite leaders are seeing CHROs as a vital ingredient to success, particularly with today’s significant economic challenges,” said one respondent. “Networks have grown, collective voice has improved. The challenges may change, but the influence continues to increase,” said another.
Survey participants did, however, raise a few notes of caution about the path ahead:
Maintaining future focus: Respondents warned that HR could not afford to rest on its laurels. There was a danger, for example, that with pressing challenges around talent and resourcing, practitioners might lose their strategic focus and revert to concentrating on transactional issues.
“The gains in reputation during the pandemic were focused on what HR has always been good at (crisis management, operational issues, etc), whereas the function needs to be far more courageous and future-oriented in the way it operates,” said one respondent. “New challenges are appearing all the time, so to be able to continue adding that value, we need to have our fingers firmly on the pulse,” added another.
Sustaining the shift to hybrid: Some practitioners felt there was a risk that advances such as the shift to hybrid working might get put back in the box. As recent surveys have shown, not everyone is yet convinced about emerging new ways of working. A recent CIPD poll of over 1K senior decision-makers, for example, found that two in five believed their organizations would revert to old ways of operating.
“More work is required to keep HR at the top table during the twists and turns of hybrid working,” said one participant, while another added: “We must not become complacent. There is a fierce debate about the long-term effects of hybrid working and how this might affect individuals and organizations in the future. People functions must evolve and maintain the focus on people, not process.”
Avoiding burnout: There is no doubt that the pressure placed on HR during the pandemic has taken its toll on many. A recent article in Forbes cites a study by Workvivo, which showed that 97 percent of HR professionals had felt emotionally fatigued over the past year, with 78 percent considering leaving their roles.
“There is an increasing risk of burnout and exhaustion within the profession,” said one respondent.
Closing the skills gap: HRMI survey respondents acknowledged that there was still work to be done to help the profession become more commercially aware and data savvy. The majority of survey respondents, for example, felt HR lacked business/strategic awareness and often failed to come up with the data to support its recommendations.
“Whilst progress has been made, HR needs to further build on its ability to speak the language of data and business strategy,” said one respondent. “We need to show our understanding of the business and how our people plans are supporting and accelerating them,” said another.
Other recommendations for practical actions HR could take to improve and sustain its influence included being “bold, brave and outspoken about what matters” and aligning its work more closely to organizational purpose, strategies and behaviors. Participants also felt the profession would benefit from being more collaborative and less siloed, and ensuring it always spoke the language of the business.
Overall, HRMI respondents felt the future for HR looked bright. One survey participant summed it up: