Some 500 HRDs were surveyed and although 65% of respondents consider themselves strategic partners to their organisations, on average they believed only 15% of their time constituted strategic work.
The rest of their time is taken up mostly by delivering HR services (27%), compliance and auditing (12%) and transacting and record-keeping (18%).
A quarter of respondents said they hoped to increase the volume of their strategic input during 2011.
The research also suggested that the recession had not entirely discouraged "transformation efforts" being undertaken by HR departments, with most respondents saying that such projects would continue in 2011.
However, the poll suggests more HR departments seem to be embarking on such transformative projects as a result of self-reflection. Some 14% of HR departments said that "awareness of their own imperfections" prompted change, whereas no-one cited this reason in Mercer's 2006 survey.
Such transformations included: redesigning HR processes (42%), designing a new strategy for delivering HR services (39%) and implementing a talent development strategy for improving skills in HR (39%).
The report's authors believe that the gap between HR’s self-perception and the reality of its work could be bridged through training and developing the skills of its workforce.
Brad McCaw, a principal at Mercer and co-author of the report, said: "This gap in perception and activities can be addressed by investing in the skills and training of HR staff, while also increasing awareness and people-management skills among line management, to ensure that their activities encompass not only the day-to-day work that needs to be done, but also supports the strategic direction of the business. Measurement and analysis are also vital."
Astik Ranade, another co-author and principal at Mercer, said: "What we’re seeing is a renewed interest across EMEA companies keen to re-examine their HR function, its value to the business and how it can further influence its internal strategy and alignment. Slowly but surely, HR is making progress."
HRDs from over 40 countries took part in the survey. Similar surveys were held in 2003 and 2006.