- Most HR leaders surveyed by software firm Sage, 65%, said their teams have played a "vital role" during the coronavirus pandemic, and up to 60% experienced an increased workload composed of both administrative and strategic tasks.
- At the same time, most C-suite executives surveyed by Sage said pandemic-driven changes within HR departments "are only temporary," and 57% said they viewed HR as a largely administrative function despite recognizing that the field has played a strategic role during the pandemic. Sage surveyed more than 1,500 people from the U.K., U.S., Canada and Australia. The group included senior HR personnel, C-suite executives and employees.
- A large share of employees, on the other hand, said HR's role has become more strategic and people-focused; 25% said this change was "substantial." Slightly more than one-third of employees said HR adapted to become more responsive, and 54% said they had an improved knowledge and understanding of HR's role due to the pandemic.
HR personnel who responded to Sage's survey echoed what has been reported by other researchers in the past year: HR saw its workload increase in a big way. Paychex's 2020 Pulse of HR Survey, published in August, found nearly 9 in 10 HR professionals said that they had a voice in company strategy, with the most significant challenges being keeping employees motivated, engaged and informed.
Strategic function, however, has been a conversation in the HR industry since long before the pandemic. Factors ranging from the general trend of more collaborative work models to the extensive outsourcing of HR functions at many companies have been identified as catalysts for HR's shift toward being more fully integrated into company strategy.
And yet, as Sage notes in its analysis, not all organizational components are convinced that HR has a seat at the figurative table. In 2018, for example, HR software vendor Paycor found most surveyed CFOs believed HR did not impact business bottom lines. More recently, some industry observers have noted that employers increasingly recognize the connection between talent and company performance, helping to flesh out exactly how integral HR is.
The pandemic may push these trends further. Last year, officials at ADP told HR Dive that the pandemic contributed to a "renewed sense of 'humanity' in our work," with employers responding to calls on issues such as racial justice and resilience amid crisis.
"Both the c-suite and employees have clearly recognized the greater strategic responsibilities HR has taken on, and their role in steering organizations through this incredible acceleration of change," Sage said in a report breaking down the survey results. "Yet, there are still challenges. The c-suite underestimate HR leaders' workloads, and admin is still holding HR back. Those who haven't moved to self-service and automation are struggling and were simply unable to respond when the pandemic hit."
Sage advised HR teams to address the administrative component by embracing automation, referring to automation and self-service solutions as "no-brainers." The company also suggested that practitioners build confidence in HR by building skill sets and providing actionable insights to members of the C-suite.