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The changing face of HR: What HR and the C-suite really think of the sector today

People & Leadership

The changing face of HR: What HR and the C-suite really think of the sector today

HR manager

HR are dealing with a lot. Still.

The most-used phrase for HR leaders during the past two years managing uncertainty – shows no sign of abating just yet.

Ripples from the impact of the worldwide economic downturn are beginning to touch businesses and workers.

HR leaders are having to manage employee wellbeing and fears over job security and pay, along with supporting the C-suite through even more unpredictability.

Interestingly, while 90% of HR leaders say they’re excited about the future of HR, 81% are feeling burnt out and 62% tell us they are considering leaving the profession.

These are just some of the findings of Sage’s new annual research report, The changing face of HR in 2024.

Here’s what we cover in this article:

About the research

We spoke to more than 1,000 HR leaders and C-suite execs from small and medium organisations across the world to find out their candid thoughts on the sector today, what’s keeping them up at night, and what their hopes are for the future of HR.

Specifically, the research focuses on:

  • HR today – what life is like for HR leaders right now
  • What the future holds for HR – how HR feel about the future of the sector  
  • Solving HR challenges – what HR leaders need to get ahead.

The respondents’ answers provide a full 360-degree view of the sector, offering an up-to-date snapshot of the changing role of HR today.

The results make for interesting reading.

HR today: HR’s temperature check

The past year or so has been challenging to say the least. A huge 95% of HR leaders told us working in HR is simply too much work and stress.

As one HR director puts it: “The last couple of years have been very stressful. We’ve had to face really complex issues at work and have also had to help our people who have been going through difficult times.”

Despite this, 57% of HR leaders say they greatly enjoy working in HR, with “making an impact” and “shaping new ways of working” being some of the positive motivations for still liking their role.

Both HR and C-suite leaders strongly agree that HR’s role has changed dramatically over the past five years, with around a third of HR leaders and 40% of the C-suite anticipating that these drastic changes won’t slow down anytime soon.

Respondents universally recognise the challenge facing HR leaders that hasn’t been solved everywhere just yet: that HR leaders are trying to evolve their functions from predominantly an administrative function to a more strategic one.

According to our research, 73% of HR leaders and 76% of the C-suite point out that the balance today often still tips in favour of being process-driven more than they would like.

More than 60% of C-suite leaders admit to still seeing HR’s role as administrative, and many business leaders don’t expect HR to play a leading role in key areas that would traditionally sit in their wheelhouse, such as workforce planning and company culture.

In addition, 73% of HR leaders and 75% of the C-suite claim the term ‘human resources’ is outdated.

The future of HR

When it comes to navigating the next few years, 91% of HR leaders and 95% of the C-suite tell us they’re excited about the future of HR. However, 66% of HR leaders still have some worries about what lies ahead.

As the function moves towards a more people-focused role in the changing world of work, both HR and the C-suite agree that employee experiences and employee satisfaction will become more paramount areas for HR to focus on.

Eszter Lantos, head of people at TCC Global, explains: “There must be more focus on the people experience and looking at our colleagues like important customers. HR should become architects for great employee experiences.”

HR leaders also told us that their experience makes them the perfect candidate to be future CEOs—and current business leaders agree.

In fact, 91% of HR leaders and 95% of C-suite execs say HR has the right skills to become heads of business.

However, while business leaders are prioritising financial growth, putting it third in their list of priorities, it’s 10th on the list for HR leaders today.

We’ve found that 93% of HR and business leaders are worried about the economic climate and both agree that it’ll be a challenge for HR in the years ahead.

Asked what the top challenges will be for HR in 2024, 92% of HR leaders predict the sheer amount of work they must undertake will be a big barrier to future success in 2024.

Meanwhile, limited budgets, a lack of resources, and not having the right skills in the HR team were also seen as barriers.

Solving HR’s challenges

We asked our respondents what HR will need in for future success.

The two things that feature highly on HR leaders’ lists are a boost in HR skills and increased investment in specialisms.

In addition, 40% also want more technological know-how, and 33% want better peer-to-peer support networks within HR.

As Jat Bansal, director of talent at Funding Circle, puts it: “HR needs to be close to their CEO and leadership team, and show that they’re planning for the future.”

HR leaders also need to up the pace when it comes to HR tech. 83% of HR leaders say they don’t currently have the right technology, with just 59% of companies using people analytics and cloud HR systems.

The HR paradox

HR leaders are grabbling with a range of personal conflicts today.

They’re excited about the future of HR (91%) but also worried about what it holds (61%). They love what they do (57%) but are also considering leaving HR (62%).

They believe they have the right skills to be CEOs (91%) but only 13% are prioritising financial growth today.

They feel the sector is adapting to become more speedy and agile (86%) but 63% of the C-suite still see HR’s role as administrative.

Ultimately, many HR leaders get into the sector because they want to make a difference. At the best of times, HR is a rewarding sector, supporting people and building brilliant and resilient workforces.

However, there’s a risk that the stress and heavy workloads can cancel this out. More so than ever right now with all the challenges and uncertainty HR teams are dealing with.

One, but not the only, answer to this lies in being more easily able to swap the time spent on paperwork and processes for time spent on people. If HR teams can cut the admin, then there’s more time and energy to focus on what really matters instead.

The changing face of HR in 2024

From process to people, take a peek at the paradoxes facing HR leaders today by downloading this research report.

Download the report

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