People & Leadership

How the pandemic has changed expectations of HR: What HR leaders need to know

We spoke to 1,500 HR leaders, C-suite execs and employees to get a 360-degree view of HR in light of coronavirus. Here’s what we found.

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Someone really should have warned HR and People leaders that we needed to strap ourselves in.

Even then, though, would we have ever been completely prepared for the rollercoaster ride that organizations have experienced because of the coronavirus pandemic?

It really has been a period of dramatic change.

So, in a new piece of research, we set out to understand the following:

  • What’s the impact been for HR leaders?
  • How have expectations of HR changed?
  • What does this mean for HR today and in the future?

HR in the moment: Changing perceptions and expectations in HR

As part of our research, HR in the moment: Changing perceptions and expectations in HR, we spoke to more than 1,500 HR leaders, C-suite executives and employees in the UK, US, Canada and Australia to discover how the pandemic and recent events have impacted the role, expectations and views of HR and People teams globally.

They told us how recent changes have impacted the HR landscape; what’s on the new HR agenda; what the changing perceptions of HR are – and what it means for HR leaders today.

The results were fascinating. Here’s what we found.

1. The view from HR

Despite all the disruption, HR leaders say they have become more strategic, more visible, and more influential in leading change.

In fact, 65% of HR leaders say their teams have had a vital role to play in the pandemic, driving change, enabling remote working and supporting wellbeing.

Meanwhile, 72% of HR leaders also say the pandemic has helped them demonstrate both their value and increase understanding of HR’s role.

As a result, 59% say they feel more influential as leaders.

Uncertain times can spur employees to take on more, though, and even before the pandemic we knew HR and People leaders were juggling a lot.

It seems HR workloads have increased even further, quite dramatically, because of the pandemic. We found 60% of HR leaders say they’ve experienced an increase in both administrative and strategic tasks.

2. The view from the C-suite

When times are tough, confirmation that your efforts are making a difference go a long way.

Fortunately, HR and People teams’ hard work and greater influence in the face of the pandemic has been recognized by the C-suite, with 87% of C-suite executives crediting HR for leading accelerated change and driving new ways of operating.

Worryingly though, more than half of C-suite executives (52%) believe it’s only a temporary shift.

What’s more, there’s a clear disconnect between how HR leaders see their influence, role and workload, and how it’s perceived by the C-suite.

Despite expecting HR teams to pick up more strategic work, 57% of C-suite execs still see HR as largely an administrative function – a clear disconnect from what we’ve heard from HR leaders.

In addition, we found that despite HR and People leaders feeling their workloads have increased over the past year, more than three-quarters of the C-suite (76%) still feel this extra workload is manageable.

3. The view from employees

There’s a reason we ask for 360-degree feedback, right? It’s not just the view from the top that counts.

Our research revealed 60% of employees noticed changes in HR’s role over the past year, saying they were more strategic and people-focused – and 25% noted this change as substantial.

With HR becoming more visible within an organization because of the pandemic, 54% of employees say they now know more and understand HR’s role and value better.

A third (34%) of employees credit HR with adapting to become more agile and responsive to their needs and requirements.

Perhaps most importantly of all, employees have noticed HR’s influence has made organizations more people-focused, with 57% of employees saying coronavirus has been a catalyst for HR driving more people-related decisions across the business.

Employees clearly see the value HR leaders have brought to the table in supporting them through the changes as a result of the pandemic.

However, with three-quarters of employees (75%) still see HR as being more process driven than strategic, showing there’s still more work to be done.

4. The view on HR’s digital transformation and the skills gap

Coronavirus has also upped the ante and accelerated the pace of change when it comes to digital transformation.

More than half (59%) of C-suite and HR leaders say HR is even more focused on digital transformation because of the pandemic – so both groups were aligned on their views on this.

However, there’s still a disconnect, with investment in resources being a sticking point.

Only 45% of HR and People leaders we polled feel they’re fully equipped with the tools needed for the future. Nearly two-thirds (67%) want to invest more in HR tech.

As a result, a third see lack of investment as a barrier to their effectiveness.

Contrast this with the fact that 58% of the C-suite believe HR already has the tools it needs, and the problem becomes more apparent.

While 63% of C-suite executives are fully confident HR can bring the organization into the new world of work, this drops to 52% for HR leaders – an 11% difference in opinion.

Expectations and perceptions of HR are changing

Throughout this pandemic, HR leaders and their teams have delivered, becoming more flexible, agile and influential with HR earning greater respect and recognition within organizations.

However, HR leaders can’t go it alone – and times don’t seem any less uncertain still.

Our next two research reports in our ‘HR in the moment’ series will cover what this means for relationships with the C-suite and times ahead.

In the meantime, download the first research report – Changing perceptions and expectations in HR – in full to discover more about how the pandemic has changed expectations of HR today.

How the pandemic has changed expectations of HR: What HR leaders need to know

Woman standing alone in an office space