The spate of job losses that happened early in the COVID-19 pandemic hit certain roles and industries — like hospitality and food service — particularly hard, and HR department was not spared.
“Generally speaking, support and enablement functions get cut first,” Paaras Parker, CHRO of Paycor, told HR Dive. While many in HR were cut early on, the need for talent and focus on DEI initiatives over the past few years meant that HR workers were able to bounce back quickly and have enjoyed stability and even increased demand in the job market.
Not necessarily, Parker said: “I’m hopeful … that we don’t see a trend again of layoffs in the HR space, because we’re really consciously using what we’ve learned from the last three to four years.”
Increasingly, business leaders are noticing that HR leaders bring a great deal of value beyond cutting checks and filing tax documents. “The role of the HR professional continues to shift from administrative to more of a thought partner or thought leader … having a more strategic consultative approach into the business,” Parker said.
For those paying attention, signs of HR’s evolving role are everywhere. On Oct. 31, 2022, the Society for Human Resource Management announced it was acquiring CEO Academy, drawing attention to the “CEO-CHRO relationship.” C-suite executives responding to a survey by HR tech company Sage said they believed the HR role has changed dramatically over the past few years, and that the reputation and image of the department is due for an upgrade.
The increasingly strategic position of HR has served as a protective feature for the department, Parker said. “HR professionals can serve more in that consultative role and be in the car as a passenger with their business leader partner … to impact bigger and greater longer-term results than, you know, putting out fires every day — which is still really, really important. But we’ve also learned better and more effective ways of doing that,” she said.
Analysis of talent is one of the best ways HR can prove its worth. “What the last couple of years has taught us with the job market is that the talent that you’re looking to acquire isn't always available, but you have great people that are saying yes to you, every single day, that are already a part of your organization,” Parker said.
HR can conduct what Parker called a “gap analysis,” improving retention and meeting company needs at the same time. “So Jenny is good at X, the business needs Y, asking open-ended questions of that business leader, [like] ‘How can we better utilize Jenny and her skill set?’ What that solves for is … Jenny’s not going to take her talents someplace else. She’s going to see that the company that she’s in right now is thinking outside of the box thinking about how to utilize her in new and different ways,” Parker said.
Emphasizing the importance of learning is also crucial. HR should be “really declarative and clear that [employee] growth isn’t always just like promotion after promotion after promotion,” Parker said. “We should anticipate growth also being our breadth of skill sets.”
HR leaders may sometimes feel penned in by expectations that they only handle certain functions, but they may also have more control than they think, Parker noted: “We become the most vulnerable … when we’re doing things for doing things’ sake. I think where we have a ton of control is to be able to say, ‘The organization has X objective. This is how your people partners help you achieve it. These are the levers that we know you can increase or decrease to get the results that you want.’”
It’s a good time to be in HR, Parker said, because executives are particularly willing to listen right now; “There are a lot of ways that we can influence triggering the right levers to fundamentally drive anticipated business results.”