For the second consecutive year, from the annual SHRM Conference & Exposition, Paychex released the results of its Pulse of HR Survey, offering insights on the challenges and priorities of today’s HR leaders. The survey, which collected over 300 responses from HR leaders (managers and up) in small and midsize organizations across the United States, both reaffirmed HR’s critical role in shaping company strategy and revealed a sharpened focus on talent management activities that have a meaningful impact on employee engagement and company culture.
Between the digital transformation and a changing workforce, the HR function has evolved to take on a more strategic role over the last several years. In both 2017 and 2018, 80% of HR leaders surveyed feel they have strategic influence on the C-suite—and only 12% feel their primary role is administrative. This shift has brought about an increased sense of value and purpose across the HR profession, and, like many other parts of the organization, has led to higher demands being placed on HR. As a result, according to the survey, 78% of HR leaders report feeling stressed at work in both 2017 and 2018. Despite the increased pressure of an evolving role, though, three-quarters of respondents would still recommend HR as a profession.
Part of HR leaders’ stress stems from keeping up with and complying with an ever-changing regulatory environment. For the second-straight year, those two challenges ranked among the top three for survey respondents. Regulations always have been and always will be a major aspect of the HR function. Even when considering the current administration and an emphasis on deregulation at the federal level, one might think keeping up with regulations would be easier today. However, the trend so far is that as federal regulations decrease, many state and local governments are responding—which means even more for HR leaders to keep track of.
Regardless, it is up to HR leaders to do what’s right for the company and their employees and make recommendations to C-suite leadership on issues of policy and culture. This has certainly been the case over the past year with pay equity and harassment. According to the survey, 67% of respondents have reevaluated their pay practices this year, with an eye on pay equity; and 83% of HR leaders surveyed now have a discrimination and harassment policy in place, with 65% having updated those policies in the last 12 months. For HR leaders, these issues have moved beyond just creating policies; it’s important to take it to the next level and educate the workforce at all levels, from the C-suite all the way to frontline employees.
The right mix of HR technology solutions can help HR leaders find the time to focus on important business and strategic issues and can also provide data and key insights to support recommendations. Survey results revealed 21% of HR leaders are currently leveraging the power of a single HR technology, nearly half (48%) are using several separate systems with some integrations, 15% are using different systems with no integration, and 15% are still completely manual. A single suite allows for powerful integration for time-savings and comprehensive data analysis without silos created by individual platforms. In addition to improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the HR department, HR technology can also help improve employee empowerment and engagement. More than three-quarters of HR leaders feel their current HR technology solution is improving the overall employee experience. Today’s modern employee is tech-dependent and seeks more self-service, on-demand, and collaborative HR tools and support.
As a result of their myriad responsibilities, HR leaders help companies protect their most valuable assets—their people. The reality is that people spend more time at work than they do at home, so no matter what the next few years in HR bring, focusing on the employee experience is a top priority, starting with the culture HR leaders create and the work environment they foster. Employees need to feel a sense of purpose in their work, as well as a connection to their leader, colleagues, and community. My crystal ball says 2023 will look very different from today, but HR leaders need to stay in front of the expectations of today’s workforce, anticipating and planning for the workforce of the future.
Leah Machado is the Senior Director of HR Services at Paychex.