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Expectations for HR are Higher than Ever Before

July 10, 2020

By Heather Nezich courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

With the COVID-19 pandemic, more is being demanded from HR than possibly any other time in history. Virtually overnight, HR moved from a focus on recruiting and retaining scarce talent in a tight labor market to coping with massive layoffs, furloughs, budget constraints, remote work, and historic levels of employee anxiety. Seldom has HR’s job been more challenging.

There is much uncertainty as to whether the economy will see a quick economic bounce back or a long-lasting recession. The economy affects many parts of HR and, in particular, has a large impact on those responsible for restructurings, compensation, risk management, health, wellness, performance management, organizational development, and talent acquisition.’s Research Institute conducted a study of HR professionals, The Future of the HR Function 2020, to better understand how ready their departments are to adapt to a fast-changing present and uncertain future.

Two-thirds of study participants say the number one priority for HR over the next two years is to “create workforces that are agile and can respond quickly to change.”

Results also indicate the top areas of focus that HR professionals need to give attention to as they manage their workforces over the next two years. The most common are the need to:

  • create workforces that are agile and can respond quickly to change,
  • enhance the employee experience,
  • leverage HR analytics to improve decision-making and insights, and
  • ramp up reskilling and upskilling of employees.

“With the uncertainty in the world right now, preparation is key for businesses to thrive.  HR will require agility and versatility to ensure policies and processes are in place to keep employees healthy and stress levels low,” stated Debbie McGrath, chief instigator and CEO of  

Other key findings include:

  • Just 37% of HR professionals are confident in HR’s preparedness to thrive over the next two years.
  • 23% are pessimistic about their HR department’s ability to thrive.
  •  77% say leveraging HR data/analytics is important or essential while only 32% say they are proficient or highly proficient in this area.
  • Remote work technology solutions are cited by more than half of respondents as having the largest impact on HR in the next two years.
  • High HR performers are notably more likely to identify future economic conditions as having a significant impact on HR than lower performers (61% vs. 47%).
  • About half (52%) say technological changes will be one of four factors to have the most significant impact on their HR functions over the next three to five years.

The survey outlined seven key takeaways for HR professionals to focus on:

1.     Work on understanding leaders’ priorities.

2.     Be great at supporting change.

3.     Be proactive in addressing upcoming challenges.

4.     Decide what skills gaps matter most for your HR department, then act.

5.     Learn what an “agile workforce” really means.

6.     Make a big investment in HR’s ability to use technology.

7.     Pay attention to the proficiency high HR performers have developed in demonstrating leadership.

As stated in the survey report, “The Economist sums it up…’Never before have more firms needed a hard-headed HR boss…They must keep employees healthy; maintain their morale; oversee a vast remote-working experiment; and, as firms retrench, consider whether, when and how to lay workers off. Their in-trays are bulging.’”

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