HR must catch its breath and address changing expectations after the pandemic

HR and the pandemicSomeone really should have warned HR and people leaders that we needed to strap ourselves in, right? Even then, would we have ever been completely prepared for the rollercoaster ride organisations have experienced because of the pandemic? As part of Sage’s research, ‘HR in the moment: changing perceptions and expectations in HR’, we spoke to more than 1,500 human resources leaders, c-suite executives and employees in the UK, US, Canada, and Australia, to discover how the pandemic and recent events have impacted the role, expectations and views of human resources teams globally.

We wanted to understand: how have recent changes impacted the HR landscape? What’s on the new agenda? What are the changing expectations and perceptions of human resources – and what does it mean for leaders today?


The view from HR

Despite all the disruption, human resources leaders say they have become more strategic, more visible, and more influential in leading change.

In fact, 65 percent of HR leaders say their teams have had a vital role to play in the pandemic – driving change, enabling remote working, and supporting wellbeing. 72 percent of HR leaders also say the crisis has helped them demonstrate both their value and increase understanding of their role. As a result, 59 percent say they feel more influential as leaders.

A crisis can spur employees to take on more, however, and even before the pandemic we knew leaders were juggling a lot. It seems workloads have increased dramatically alongside expectations for managers, including the admin burden, with 60 percent saying they’ve experienced an increase in both administrative and strategic tasks.

While HR and People teams have been able to navigate and guide employees through this time of crisis and become more influential as a result, they’ll need to find ways for their team to move away from the shackles of heavy admin to a more strategic function, to provide the most value back to the business.


The view from the c-suite

When times are tough, confirmation that your efforts are making a difference go a long way. Fortunately, human resources teams’ hard work and greater influence in the face of the pandemic has been recognised by the c-suite, with 87 percent of c-suite executives crediting HR for leading accelerated change and driving new ways of operating. Worryingly though, over half of c-suite executives (52 percent) believe it’s only a temporary shift.

What’s more, there’s a clear disconnect between how HR leaders see their influence, role, and workload, and how it’s perceived by the c-suite. Despite expecting HR teams to pick up more strategic work, 57 percent of c-suite execs still see HR largely administrative – a clear disconnect from what we’ve heard from HR leaders. In addition, we found that HR and People leaders feel their workload has increased over the past year, yet over three-quarters of the c-suite (76 percent) still feel this extra workload is manageable.

For HR and People leaders to get ahead, they’ll need to build a connection between the c-suite and their team in order to manage expectations and ruthlessly prioritise workstreams effectively.


The view from employees

There’s a reason we ask for 360-degree feedback, right? It’s not just the view from the top that counts. 60 percent of employees noticed changes in HR’s role this year, saying they were more strategic and people-focussed – and 25 percent noted this change as substantial.

With HR becoming more visible within an organisation because of the pandemic, 54 percent of employees say they now know more and understand the discipline’s role and value better. A third (34 percent) of employees credit HR with adapting to become more agile and responsive to their needs and requirements.

Perhaps most importantly of all, employees have noticed HR’s influence has made organisations more people-focused, with 57 percent of employees saying COVID has been a catalyst for HR driving more people-related decisions across the business.

Employees clearly see the value HR leaders have brought to the table in supporting them through the changes as a result of the pandemic. However, with three-quarters of employees (75 percent) still see human resources as being more process driven than strategic, showing there’s still work to be done.


Digital transformation and the skills gap

COVID-19 has only upped the ante and accelerated the pace of change when it comes to digital transformation. More than half (59 percent) of c-suite and HR leaders say they are even more focused on digital transformation because of the pandemic.

However, there’s still a disconnect, with investment in resources being a sticking point. Only 45 percent of HR and people leaders we polled feel they’re fully equipped with the tools needed for the future. Nearly two-thirds (67 percent) want to invest more in technology. As a result, a third see lack of investment as a barrier to their effectiveness.

Contrast this with the fact that 58 percent of the c-suite believe HR already has the tools it needs, and the problem becomes more apparent. While 63 percent of c-suite executives are fully confident HR can bring the organisation into the new world of work, this drops to 52 percent for HR leaders – an 11 percent difference in opinion.