The evolving role of HR: 3 trends to watch

The role of a human resources professional has never been easy—even before the need to lead workforces through a global pandemic. In 2019, more than 50% of HR leaders struggled to ensure that employees had the skills necessary to navigate an increasingly digitized workplace.

And then 2020 happened.

Whether they were ready or not, HR teams had to step into unchartered territory to keep employees safe while ensuring their organizations survived by navigating remote work, creating business continuity plans, and planning safe return-to-workplace strategies. Throughout these new challenges, it’s become increasingly clear that the role of HR is evolving.

On August 3 and 4, 2020, more than 600 HR and people management professionals gathered virtually at SOAHR, SHRM-Atlanta’s annual conference to discuss how the role of HR is solving new sets of challenges such as creating safe return-to-workplace strategies, closing talent skill gaps, and creating real-time development and growth opportunities for their people. As members of our Scoop team attended the event, we noticed HR leaders are honing in on three key trends that will shape the future of work.

Here are three key trends to watch that demonstrate the evolving role of HR:

1. Organizations worldwide are realizing they’re falling short when it comes to the employee experience. To combat this, they’re implementing new, more holistic approaches that extend beyond the four corners of the workplace. Employee experience is the intersection of employee expectations, the environment, and events that shape their journey within the organization. The Gartner Strategy in the Digital Era Survey found that organizations with successfully implemented employee experience strategies see significant returns on their investments:

  • 4.17x increase in employees’ productivity
  • 1.64x increase in high performance
  • 1.65x increase in intent to stay
  • 2.21x increase in discretionary effort

According to Brian Smith, Career Products Southeast Market Leader at Mercer, poor employee experience can create rifts between employers and employees–and many organizations are currently falling short in building a robust and holistic employee experience. During Smith’s SOAHR session “Digitizing the Employee Experience,” he shared that just 4% of HR leaders globally today feel they deliver an exemplary employee experience. This number drops to 0% when only including HR leaders in the United States, according to Mercer’s 2020 Global Talent Trends Study.

How can HR teams prioritize employee experience while managing remote workforces and planning return-to-workforce strategies?

For one, organizations need to realize that employee experience isn’t just one group’s responsibility, but a team sport. HR leaders should partner with cross-functional partners like transportation teams, IT, and real estate and facilities, among others to create a comprehensive experience. It’s growing increasingly clear that employee experience includes how your employees feel about work even outside of their traditional working hours and the four walls of your office.

One key area where HR can demonstrate their commitment to a holistic employee experience? The commute.  

2. Successful HR leaders know how to foster psychological safety within their organizations. Psychological safety is the belief that one will not be punished or ignored for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes. According to Karen Eber, TedX speaker and CEO of Eber Leadership Group, psychological safety is a core component of successful organizations and a foundational aspect of company culture.

During Karen’s SOAHR session “Fostering Psychological Safety on Your Teams,” she shared that many people often think of culture as the “soft,” optional parts of work that don’t require priority or focus. However, it’s culture that creates the daily environment which impacts how work gets done. Culture influences whether employees share concerns, discuss and reflect upon mistakes, build trust, and feel empowered. When organizations face quality issues, missing revenue targets, or receiving customer complaints, Karen recommends examining company culture to assess whether HR and other company leaders foster an environment of psychological safety. If employees don’t feel they can raise issues or ask questions due to fear of retaliation or poor communication channels, workplace psychological safety is lacking.

In terms of return-to-workplace planning, HR leaders can foster psychological safety by proactively addressing employee concerns about workplace re-entry–such as how their organization will provide them with safe commute options to and from the workplace–and being transparent and thorough when announcing return-to-workplace details. By getting ahead of employee return-to-workplace concerns such as whether employees will have a variety of safe commute modes to travel to and from the workplace, employees will feel higher levels of trust and increased peace of mind.

3. HR’s role is to be an instrument of company-wide change by demonstrating direct ROI and impact on their programs and initiatives. HR has the responsibility to advocate for the success and well-being of an organization’s employee base while helping a company stay in line with its budget and financial goals.

During the SOAHR event, “Optimizing HR’s Financial Resources in The New Normal,” AMB Group CHRO Tim Goodly, Secureworks Chief People Officer Stacie Hagan, and WestRock Company CHRO Vicki Lostetter discussed how HR leaders could set themselves up for success by understanding financial acumen. By demonstrating a program’s short- and long-term impact, HR leaders can successfully make the case for resources for specific programs and initiatives. Tim, Stacie, and Vicki suggested HR teams keep a financial POV at the center of their decisions, keeping in mind that investments in well-being, employee safety, and company culture are proven to boost employee morale, productivity, and retention.

As organizations build and implement their return-to-workplace strategies, HR leaders play a pivotal role in ensuring their employees’ safety and well-being are kept front-and-center of decision making. HR-driven programs are only successful if their results can be measured and if they form a cross-functional partnership where HR brings the expertise necessary to achieve them.

When discussing how the commute plays a major role in the holistic employee experience or part of any safe return-to-workplace strategy, demonstrate to cross-functional partners that your commute investments are variable, flexible, and scalable in structure and cost and are tied directly to employee impact.

HR teams are evolving to provide a holistic employee experience that extends beyond the four corners of the workplace. As organizations continue to improve their remote working policies while planning a safe and successful return-to-workplace strategy, HR leaders are stepping up to the plate to serve as trusted, cross-functional business partners company-wide. If you’re interested in learning more about how Scoop is partnering with organizations to help execute their return to workplace efforts, please head to our enterprise resource center.

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