Some studies have revealed negative perceptions of HR roles as mere administrators, whose main responsibilities are negotiating pay, settling employment paperwork, completing performance reviews, and meting out disciplinary actions.
This shows an unfortunate lack of understanding regarding the true HR roles in the workplace. But accountability for such disconnect often lies with both sides – after all, companies struggling to determine the exact purpose of their HR department will unavoidably create confusion for their employees.
Which is why HR leaders and professionals need to take a good hard look at the roles they currently play in their organisations, and push for the transformation necessary to keep up with the changing needs of the future workplace.
How workplace trends are redefining the HR roles
The workplace of today is significantly different from that of a few years ago. According to consulting firm Oliver Wyman, trends like:
- greater diversity in the workplace, including a growing generation gap;
- an increased focus on personal development over title, career, and company;
- a demand for a new equilibrium between employee and employer rights and obligations;
- movement toward more agile, flat, and open organisations; and
- the changing perception of employees as customers;
will shape the future of work and the role of HR in it.
In the wake of COVID-19, workplace transformation has only accelerated. The increasingly urgent focus placed on talent management has highlighted the dramatic change that HR needs to undergo if it wishes to effectively support the future of employee engagement and retention.
To build a thriving and resilient organisation, HR departments need to evolve from administrators and resource planners into strategic partners, employee advocates, and change mentors.
1. Strategic partners
According to leadership author and speaker Angela Champ, HR will become a more integral part of an organisation’s strategy and success moving forward. “HR will be working more closely with Operations and with Finance than it has in the past, less as a discrete function but more as an integral part of an organisation’s strategy and success,” she shares.
This makes sense, because a huge part of HR is related to resource management. And with companies needing to optimise to stay competitive, answers to questions like “Do we need
all of these roles?”, “How should we promote people who are virtual or remote?”, and “What functions can we outsource and which should we keep in-house?” need to be closely aligned with overall business strategies.
Another example of how HR can play a vital role in a company’s growth strategy is with regard to tackling talent crunch. Lack of talent is one of the most challenging bottlenecks for growth, and HR leaders can pre-empt the issue by proactively building both internal and external talent pipelines – but they can only effectively do so if they are in the know about future business strategies.
2. Employee advocates
A common criticism that you may have heard about HR professionals is that they are there to protect the company’s interests over that of the employees. Some respondents to surveys even say they distrust their own HR.
This must change. If HR teams can shift the perception of them from “we are here to get what we need out of the employees” to “we are here to show our employees we care about them”, they will become an essential part of an organisation’s success.
A good place to start is to establish more flexible work arrangements, make physical and mental well-being a priority, and support social connectivity even amongst distributed workforces – all things that employees actually want from their HR. HR teams can also facilitate employee development by providing more robust training and upskilling programs, and inventing new career paths that reflect the current talent demand and employment landscape.
3. Champions of change
Organisations of the future will be evaluated based on employee experiences. This means that successful talent attraction and retention will depend heavily on HR roles to build an organisational culture and work climate that is psychologically safe, and fosters competency, collaboration, and confidence.
There are many ways HR can champion positive changes in the workplace. It can help employees connect their individual purposes to that of the organisation’s for a boost in motivation, productivity, and well-being. It can focus more on experiential efforts like communication and dialogue, rather than rely on overly tactical, programmatic solutions when trying to promote employee engagement. And it can facilitate open and transparent communication that is respectful, inclusive, and constructive.
In summary, as the workplace changes, so must the HR roles. Rather than continue to focus primarily on compliance and administrative competencies, smart HR leaders are equipping their teams with elevated skills that will make them strategic business partners with the means to build improved employee experiences.
The current pandemic has given HR professionals the unique opportunity to reinvent their roles and become a co-leader in their organisation’s journey towards greater resilience and agility. Now is the time for HR to develop beyond traditional roles of the past to become an important and valued partner for the future.