The Impact of Covid-19 on HR: Thoughts from HR leaders

There really ought to have been some form of warning to alert HR and people leaders of what was to come in 2020, right?

The Impact of Covid-19 on HR: Thoughts from HR leaders

There really ought to have been some form of warning to alert HR and people leaders of what was to come in 2020, right? Even so, it does beg the question whether we would have ever been entirely prepared for the events of the past year that businesses have endured due to the pandemic. 

The HR in the moment: changing perceptions and expectations of HR report drew perspectives from  1,500 HR leaders, c-suite executives and employees across the UK, US, Canada, and Australia. The findings from the research highlighted how Covid-19 and consequent events have affected HR and People teams on a holistic level – impacting the roles, perceptions and views of teams internationally. 

The aim was to gain an understanding of how the landscape of HR has been altered in reaction to recent changes. We wanted to comprehend what the new HR agenda looks like, what the shifting expectations and perceptions of HR are, and ultimately to translate this into its impact on the world of HR now. 

Through the HR lens 

As a response to the frequent global changes, HR leaders feel thay have become increasingly visible and influential when it comes to leading change. Despite the disruption experienced over the course of the last year, this alone presents a seemingly positive outcome of the effects of the pandemic as HR leaders and employees have been forced to grow beyond their comfort zone.  

A critical element to driving change, enabling remote working, and supporting wellbeing is the crucial role teams have played in the pandemic, according to 65% of HR leaders. 72% of HR leaders also say the crisis has helped them demonstrate both their value and increase understanding of HR’s role ‘ where this was previously not clear, according to 84% of HR leaders. Consequently, 59% express a feeling of increasing business influence as leaders.

Although a crisis can encourage employees to take on more, even pre-pandemic we understood that HR and People leaders were spinning many plates. It appears that all forms of workload have increased dramatically alongside expectations for HR, with 60% saying they’ve experienced an increase in both administrative and strategic tasks. 

Throughout this crisis, the navigation and guidance of employees by HR and People teams has seen the latter become more influential as a result. There is a necessity to discover ways for their team to shake the burden of heavy admin and move to a more strategic function, providing the most value back to the company. 

Through the c-suite lens

It is more important, more so in difficult circumstances than ever, to receive confirmation that your efforts are making a difference, for your personal sense of duty and fulfilment. Fortunately, HR and People teams’ hard work and greater influence in the face of the pandemic has been recognised by the c-suite, with 87% of c-suite executives acknowledging the accelerated change within the HR function. Despite this, 52% of c-suite executives believe the shift is a temporary one.

Further to this, a clear disconnect between the way HR leaders see their influence, role, and workload, and how it is perceived by the c-suite is becoming apparent. Despite expecting HR teams to pick up more strategic work, 57% of c-suite execs still see HR largely administrative ‘ a clear disconnect from what we’ve heard from HR leaders. In addition, we found that HR and People leaders feel their workload has increased over the past year, yet over three-quarters of the c-suite (76%) still feel this extra workload is manageable. 

Building strong and reliable workstreams within the business relies on a robust connection between the c-suite and their teams. Making the effort to ensure the development of such connection will not only assist HR and People leaders, but also help to manage expectations amongst the workforce.

Through the employee lens

Why is 360-degree feedback so pivotal? It’s not just the view from the top that counts. 60% of employees noticed changes in HR’s role this year, saying they were more strategic and people-focussed – and 25% noted this change as substantial. 

As the role of HR becomes increasingly visible within businesses, because of the pandemic, 54% of employees say they now know more and understand HR’s role and value better. The report finds that a third (34%) of employees acknowledge their HR leaders for their adaptive abilities, and ability to respond to their needs and requirements effectively. 

Most importantly of all, the influence of HR has been noticed by employees as establishing organisations who put their people at the heart of the business. 57% of employees say COVID has been a catalyst for HR driving more people-related decisions across the business.

The value of HR leaders is evident when considering their support of employees through the changes. Having said this, three-quarters of employees (75%) still view HR as being more process driven than strategic, showing there is still a way to go. 

The view on resource investment 

It was not only the stakes that were increased by COVID-19, but also 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.

However, a discordance remains, with investment in resources surfacing as a point of contention. Only 45% of HR and People leaders we polled feel they are fully equipped with the tools needed for the future. Two-thirds (67%) want to invest more in HR tech. We can take from this, that a third believe the hinderance to their efficiency is a fundamental lack of investment. 

Opposing this is the fact that over half (58%) of the c-suite feel HR is already equipped with the necessary tools for the role. The problem just became real, didn’t it? While 63% of c-suite executives are fully confident HR can bring the organisation into the new world of work, this drops to 52% for HR leaders – an 11% difference in opinion.

Post-COVID-19: How to be on the front foot with HR technology

Now is not the time to give up or slow down. Throughout this pandemic, HR leaders and their teams have delivered – becoming more flexible, agile, and influential with HR earning greater respect and recognition within organisations.

HR’s role in aiding organisations to perform in the future has become vital. 

However, HR leaders cannot do this alone. Investment into HR technology is critical to boosting the importance and efficiency of the department forward. Both the freeing of capacity for leadership and strategic influence and helping HR teams manage increased workloads need to be the driving forces to provide the best experiences for employees. 

The heavy load of extra admin is diminished by the advancement of digital solutions and automation. No matter how uncertain the landscape may be, this strategically positions HR with the opportunity to leverage new-found influence, in turn promoting people-centric decisions to be made across businesses.

Hannah Wright
Hannah Wright

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