How HR can retain influence post-pandemic

2022 HR Most Influential survey participants offer their tips for sustaining a valuable impact in leadership

HR’s star was on the ascendance during the pandemic, as practitioners guided their organisations through everything from the intricacies of furlough to the pivot to hybrid working.

But two years on, as we learn to live with Covid-19, have the advances the profession made in terms of impact and influence been sustained?

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The answer from respondents to the 2022 HR Most Influential (HRMI) survey was a resounding yes – although with some provisos. Practitioners felt that employers were taking HR much more seriously and were giving it a greater voice in developing business strategy.

“More C-suite leaders are seeing CHROs as a vital ingredient to success, particularly with today’s significant economic challenges,” said one respondent. “Networks have grown, collective voice has improved. The challenges may change, but the influence continues to increase,” said another.

Survey participants did, however, raise a few notes of caution about the path ahead.


Maintaining future focus

Respondents warned that HR could not afford to rest on its laurels. There was a danger, for example, that with pressing challenges around talent and resourcing, practitioners might lose their strategic focus and revert to concentrating on transactional issues.

“The gains in reputation during the pandemic were focused on what HR has always been good at (crisis management, operational issues, etc), whereas the function needs to be far more courageous and future oriented in the way it operates,” said one respondent.

“New challenges are appearing all the time, so to be able to continue adding that value, we need to have our fingers firmly on the pulse,” added another.


Sustaining the shift to hybrid

Some practitioners felt there was a risk that advances, such as the shift to hybrid working, might get put back in the box. Yet not everyone is convinced about emerging new ways of working.

A CIPD poll of more than 1,000 senior decision-makers, for example, found that two in five believed their organisations would revert to old ways of operating.

“More work is required to keep HR at the top table during the twists and turns of hybrid working,” said one participant. Another added: “We must not become complacent. There is a fierce debate about the long-term effects of hybrid working and how this might affect individuals and organisations in the future. People functions must evolve and maintain the focus on people, not process.”


Avoiding burnout

There is no doubt that the pressure placed on HR during the pandemic has taken its toll on many. In April, a Forbes article cited a study by Workvivo, which showed 97% of HR professionals had felt emotionally fatigued over the past year, with 78% considering leaving their roles.

“There is an increasing risk of burnout and exhaustion within the profession,” said one respondent.


Closing the skills gap

HRMI survey respondents acknowledged that there was still work to be done to help the profession become more commercially aware and data-savvy. The majority of survey respondents, for example, felt HR lacked business/strategic awareness and often failed to come up with the data to support its recommendations.

“While progress has been made, HR needs to further build on its ability to speak the language of data and business strategy,” said one respondent. “We need to show our understanding of the business and how our people plans are supporting and accelerating them.”

Other recommendations for practical actions HR could take to improve and sustain its influence included being “bold, brave and outspoken about what matters”, and aligning its work more closely to organisational purpose, strategies and behaviours. Participants also felt the profession would benefit from being more collaborative and less siloed, and ensuring it always speaks the language of the business.

Overall, HRMI respondents felt the future for HR looks bright. One survey participant summed it up: “This is an amazing time to be an HR professional…engaging with fellow HR practitioners to learn how to implement and embed new solutions that will mitigate the people risk and add commercial value. I personally wouldn’t want to be in any other function right now.”


Nadine Page is associate dean at Hult International Business School

This article was first published in the July/August 2022 issue of HR magazine. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk.