HR professionals haven’t moved the needle on demonstrating their strategic value to business leaders and employees, according to respondents in HR Dive’s second Identity of HR survey.
HR Dive asked HR pros how valued they felt their department was by their organization’s leadership. Fifty-eight percent said they felt highly or very valued, while 34% languished at somewhat valued and 8% said they were not at all valued.
Although HR has had a whirlwind of a few years — through navigating a pandemic, racing to hire and retain employees, introducing new and sometimes controversial benefits and working hard to enhance DEI initiatives — these numbers barely budged from 2020. In fact, slightly more respondents that year (60%) said they felt highly or very valued.
HR pros see value to leadership as steady
The results are “surprising,” said Steve Pemberton, chief human resources officer at Workhuman, “because so much of the response to the pandemic came from the HR function of an organization. In the first few days [of the pandemic], we were the ones responsible for getting you home if you were out on business travel. We were the ones who worked very closely with IT to get you set up to work remotely. We were the ones who helped you navigate Zoom fatigue and the stress and strain of isolation which endured throughout much of 2020. We were the ones designing vaccination guidelines and safety protocols. In the offices, we were the ones who were designing the hybrid ways of working which are still unfolding.”
So what accounts for the backslide?
We are the people who take care of people.
“We have a PR problem, to be candid,” Pemberton said. “It seems to me that we need to be better storytellers just about the function and what we do.”
In some ways, for leaders, that involves communicating all the work with employees that is happening behind the scenes, in addition to the standard language that might be targeted toward aspects like recruitment and retention. While it is possible that employers found invigorated value in HR in 2020 due to the urgent response required by the pandemic — and how quickly the department moved to center stage as a result — HR continues to provide ongoing support even as the ground has become increasingly stable. “We are the people who take care of people,” Pemberton noted.
Just as HR pros’ reported strategic value to leadership has barely budged, the same is true of the department’s reported value to employees. Twenty-seven percent of respondents felt employees viewed the department very favorably, while 59% said somewhat favorably, 12% said somewhat unfavorably and 2% said very unfavorably. These numbers are very similar to 2020, although perhaps interestingly, these numbers trended ever so slightly in a positive direction, while the leadership numbers moved in a negative direction.
HR pros see a slight increase in employees' positive perception
Perhaps the feeling is attributable to the tight labor market — with hiring at record highs, employees are more likely to hear from HR that their compensation is going up or their benefits are improving, rather than receiving layoff news. (Conversely, it’s not impossible that some leaders might blame HR, rather than the explosion of new opportunities, for retention struggles.)
To improve these numbers further, Pemberton suggested communication. “In the hectic pace and blur that is work, you do have to continue to remind people what's available,” he said. “I just think about the number of times that members of my team have relayed a conversation where an employee didn't know about a benefit or wasn't aware of a policy that could be beneficial to them.”
Pemberton added that HR teams can accomplish the communication in a number of different ways, from a lunch-and-learn with the CHRO to open-ended HR “office hours.” And in addition to communicating benefits and resources, communicating values can be an important part of the story as well, he added.
“I have long defined HR as the lighthouse of any company, because it's there in times of uncertainty,” Pemberton said. “It's there in times of storm, it’s there to be a beacon and a guide that points you the right way … but the lighthouse is rarely thanked. You don’t sail up to a lighthouse and say, ‘Thank you.’ It's there and its presence is felt and impactful. But sometimes the lighthouse needs to tell you.”