Personally, I really do pity HR. They have been through a lot these past couple of years, contending with a global pandemic, the transition first to remote, and now to hybrid working, the Great Resignation, quiet quitters and meeting the demands of a newly-empowered workforce. Not to mention the upcoming challenges of soaring inflation and an impending economic downturn.
A recent survey by WorkVivo of 520 HR professionals in the United States and UK found that 98% of HR professionals are burned out. Which is ironic because one of HR’s main roles over the upheaval of the last few years has been to watch out for, and guard against, burnout amongst the rest of the workforce! The old Spanish proverb “'the cobbler's children have no shoes” seems fitting.
So I was surprised and saddened when I saw People Management report on 29th November that “two-thirds of business leaders see HR’s role as administrative”. This seems unfair considering it was critical that HR stepped up during the pandemic - keeping people safe, defining new working patterns, delivering technology to keep people connected. And all this alongside fulfilling the ‘day job’ to recruit, onboard and retain employees, and keep performance and engagement levels high.
This may be as much about image as it is about substance; in the words of Isabel Berwick, the presenter of FT’s Working It podcast, “HR has an image problem”. I have argued for some time that HR should be better at brand management. In the Sage survey “76% of C-suite respondents said the main focus of HR teams was processes, and 92% thought the profession’s perceived worth was a challenge”. Being the ‘great people person’ doesn’t cut it when it’s self-promotion that’s required.
The Sage survey also revealed opportunities for HR to earn more respect from a critical C-suite audience if they bite the bullet and become more demanding. A vast majority (83%) said not having the right HR technology was a challenge for the future. Whilst 59% of organisations surveyed currently use people analytics and cloud HR systems, there is clearly scope for the HR function to catch up with technological advances. Many HR people also need to become more financially astute; a command of critical financial and operational metrics is a must-have to be a true business partner.
So, as I said, I too pity HR. I fear that if HR has been through challenges over the last three years, the worse may be yet to come. Back-office functions always take the hit first when times get tough, even though it will be down to HR to manage any tricky reorganisations which may become necessary in 2023. I am rooting for HR to fight its corner, explaining the critical role it plays connecting leaders with employees. I want HR to make a credible business case for getting the right technology, and to command respect by having a sound understanding of critical business and operational metrics. I want 2023 to be the year that cements HR’s place at the executive table.
1. Financial Times, "Why HR needs to go back to basics"