People & Leadership

The changing face of HR: How tech can help to focus on HR strategy

The latest research report from Sage shows that HR teams are feeling the change more than ever, how they are progressing with tech such as AI and how they think about the future of HR.

Paperwork over people. That’s still the reality for most HR leaders, despite 78% of HR leaders wishing their work was less focused on admin, and more on strategy and people-centric activities.

With many HR leaders telling us a typical week looks like 19 hours of admin, working over 45 hours, and spending almost half the week on processes, admin, or paperwork, the move to being fully strategic is still a work-in-progress.

However, 79% of HR professionals say more HR processes in their company could be automated to improve efficiencies, and 3 in 4 HR leaders believe automation and AI would free them up considerably.

These are just some of the findings from the new Sage annual research, The changing face of HR.

We spoke to more than 1,000 global HR leaders from small and medium organisations to find out if and how they’re using tech like AI, how they feel about the future of HR, and what the big challenges on their plate are right now.

Here’s what we cover in this article:

1. The changing face of HR – a summary of the research report

2. Your next steps: Sage advice for future-focussed HR leaders

The changing face of HR – a summary of the research report

HR here and now: HR teams are feeling change more than ever

HR leaders told us the rate of change has never been faster, including during the pandemic, with 96% saying they don’t see changes in HR slowing down any time soon and expect HR’s role to continue to change over the next five years.

In fact, most HR leaders feel working in HR is getting harder, with 95% saying their HR responsibilities over the last year were challenging (compared to 91% the previous year) and 83% feeling burnt out (compared to 81%).

However, HR still love what they do, with 98% of HR leaders telling us that, despite the challenges, they enjoy their job. “HR is a very purpose driven profession, and this is a key driver of intrinsic motivation. I imagine that is why they feel so unstoppable,” comments Paul Devoy, CEO of Investors in People.

The future of HR: what role does tech play for HR today?

Getting ahead with tech – what’s been tried, tested, and worked? The standout solutions HR leaders told us have already helped them are increased data analytics to improve decision-making and educating themselves on new emerging technologies. This worked for 49% of HR leaders who labelled themselves as ‘unstoppable’, while 48% of HR teams who feel unstoppable said they’re getting ahead thanks to investment in HR tech.

Is automation still a key focus for HR? Although automation sounds less glamorous than AI, it’s been a feature in HR leaders’ toolkits for a long time. Today, 80% of HR teams in medium companies say over half of their HR processes are automated, with the number slightly lower for smaller businesses at 57%. However, 79% say more HR processes in their organisation could be automated to improve efficiencies, so automation is an increasing a focus.

How are HR feeling about AI? AI is a hot topic in HR right now, with 78% of HR leaders believing that implementing AI in HR tasks will save them a considerable amount of time in their role and 77% feeling AI could revolutionise ways of working in their organisation. Respondents also overwhelmingly told us they expect AI in HR to create more jobs, improve job satisfaction, and positively impact C-suite relationships.

What does AI in HR look like? While HR leaders may be broadly familiar with AI, 75% agreed they need more detailed knowledge about specific AI tools and functionalities and what this looks like in practice. “With AI in the news constantly and perhaps the biggest buzzword in business today, it’s easy to get confused between what is simply technology-enabled automation, true Artificial Intelligence and the holy grail, Generative AI,” explains Founder and CEO of PILOT, Ben Brooks.

Your next steps: Sage advice for future-focussed HR leaders

What can we learn from the research?

HR teams are facing more change, challenges, and constant pressures than ever. At the same time, many HR professionals told us they got into the sector to make a difference. A central theme we’ve also seen over the last few years remains: how can HR teams spend less time on processes and paperwork and more time on strategy and the things that matter?

Here are some of our experts’ key takeaways for HR leaders – to read the rest, download the report in full:

1) Embrace change: “HR teams who can react to unexpected and unusual circumstances, come up with new policies, take new approaches, and design and implement them quickly will be the high-performance HR teams of the future.” – Paul Devoy, CEO at Investors in People.

2) Celebrate the amazing work that’s happening: “Unplug when you can, have realistic expectations of what you can do, and get a community around you to celebrate, not commiserate, on the amazing work that you’re doing.” – Ben Eubanks, Chief Research Officer at Lighthouse Research & Advisory and Author of Talent Scarcity.

3) Focus on the strategy by using tech to free up time: “No organisation sets out to pay experts to do transactional paperwork, so purposefully freeing up that capability can help drive change and performance across the board.” – David D’Souza, Membership Director at the CIPD.

4) Remember why you got into HR in the first place: “There is something unique about HR professionals’ dedication to their work, exemplified by their passion to make a difference. Sometimes, this can create an overwhelmed feeling. Deploying the best that digitisation offers is a way to channel that drive and desire to make a difference into efficiencies.” – Perry Timms, Founder and Chief Energy Officer at PTHR.

The state of change never stops – but technology can help

HR teams are taking on more work than ever and are still bogged down by too much process, but the desire to radically change this is clear with almost 80% of HR leaders wishing their work was less admin-heavy and more people-focused.

However, while HR recognises the role technology can play, only 44% of HR teams feel they have the tech in their company to operate effectively.

The answer lies in using tech such as automation, analytics and AI to liberate HR from processes and paperwork so they can focus on people — the real reason they got into HR in the first place.

Take a deeper dive into our research and share it with your colleagues and wider business leaders.

The changing face of HR: Research report

HR teams are taking on more admin than ever - but they believe automation, analytics, and AI can free up time to focus on strategy. Read our latest report to understand what makes HR teams feel unstoppable.

Download now