HR professionals happy with their jobs but lack analytics skills, poll finds

People practitioners reporting a strong sense of meaningful work more likely to be data-driven in their decision-making, however, CIPD survey reveals

The vast majority of people professionals feel they have a meaningful career, but very few are using advanced data analytics to help them make business decisions, a poll has found.

In the latest People Profession survey from the CIPD and Workday, conducted by YouGov, four in five (78 per cent) of those who work in the people profession said it offered them a meaningful career. 

Nearly three-quarters (74 per cent) of the 1,368 HR professionals surveyed believed they had the opportunity to add value to their organisations, with those working in the private sector more likely to report a low score (11 per cent) than those in the third/voluntary sector (5 per cent). 

Seven in 10 (70 per cent) said their work made them happy, and two-thirds (66 per cent) said they looked forward to coming into work most days.

In the survey – carried out before the coronavirus outbreak took hold – nearly three-quarters (74 per cent) of professionals said HR offers good career prospects, with two-thirds (66 per cent) reporting their career progression had met or exceeded their expectations. Nearly seven in 10 (68 per cent) said the profession offered good earning potential. 

However, the report also highlighted where the profession could improve, particularly around people analytics and data skills. According to the poll, only 6 per cent of HR professionals are using advanced analytical techniques to help make business decisions, while 37 per cent collect and use very basic HR data.

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People professionals who reported a strong sense of meaningful work were more likely to be data-driven in their decision-making than those with a low meaningful work score (57 per cent and 32 per cent respectively).

Peter Cheese, chief executive of the CIPD, said it was good to see that many people professionals derive meaning and value from their careers, especially as the demands on HR over the last few months, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, had “never been greater”.

He added that the crisis had put people “much more at the heart of business thinking everywhere”, but that HR needed to show how it could engage with business leaders to drive positive change in their organisations.

“This will be even more important as businesses look to drive performance and productivity as they chart their way through more challenging and uncertain economic times, and must balance financial, legal and ethical perspectives in the decisions that impact their workforces,” Cheese said. “People professionals will continue to face many demanding months ahead as we slowly come out of the lockdown and the full impact this crisis has had on the economy is laid bare.”

Guy Pink, portfolio careerist and former HR director at Addaction, told People Management he is seeing more students coming into HR knowing it is a profession they can grow in. "HR gives them the breadth of experience and skills [and the experience of] working for a variety of really well run organisations," he said. "I'm seeing students coming through who are not likely to go off and become accountants or move into marketing – HR is their core profession."

He added that many students wanted to expand on their core qualifications to make a "real difference" in their organisations. But he agreed that many HR departments and professionals still lacked skills around people analytics and data.

"The capacity to read data and a company balance sheet for an HR professional is crucial, because you are talking the same language as other people in the organisation who work in finance or marketing," Pink explained. "If you can use and interpret data, your contributions to those conversations are significantly heightened, and then HR can begin to articulate the real benefit the function brings to an organisation."  

In a separate poll carried out by the CIPD in April, 57 per cent of the 1,178 people professionals surveyed agreed their HR teams were stepping up to support line managers through the coronavirus crisis. However, only 41 per cent of those business leaders polled agreed.

More than a third (37 per cent) of HR professionals also said a key business challenge was helping people manage the impact of working from home on their mental health. 

In another poll of HR professionals by LinkedIn and the Mental Health Foundation, almost three in five (58 per cent) HR managers said they feared losing staff to sick leave as a result of the mental health effects of working in lockdown. More than half (54 per cent) said they believed mental health issues such as stress, burnout, isolation and loneliness had increased among their workforces since the coronavirus crisis hit.

Jude Read, managing director of Jude Read Consultancy, said her working week had increased by almost 50 per cent as a result of advising clients on Covid-19 employment issues, such as protecting employee mental health in the face of enforced home working. "HR professionals have found themselves working evenings and weekends, and at one point Friday nights became the night to wait for the next government guidance," Read said.

"Businesses have had to manage the rules of allowing home working to happen, ensure their systems work efficiently and then understand the impact of this on those not used to working at home. Businesses have made allowances above and beyond what was required to support employees who in turn supported the businesses. And HR has had to ensure this did not present further risks, such as discrimination."