HR sector saw third-lowest salary increases last year, data shows

Experts warn while the pandemic has increased awareness of good people management, undervaluing the profession could cost employers talent

HR was the third-lowest performing sector for salary increases last year, analysis of new data has found, raising concerns that while awareness of the ”critical importance” of people management has increased during the pandemic, this still isn’t being reflected in salary growth.

Analysis of more than six million job postings by Reed found the average salaries in the HR sector in the UK grew by 1.9 per cent in 2020. This was less than the UK average of 2.32 per cent, and meant HR was the third-worst sector for salary growth.

The average salary in the sector was still higher than the UK average, at £47,220 compared to £36,717.

An additional poll of 124 people professionals, conducted as part of Reed’s Human Resources Salary Guide 2021, also found 41 per cent were unhappy with their current pay and that, of those, a third (33 per cent) reported having to do much more than their job role specified.

The findings come despite the challenges HR personnel have faced during the pandemic, from handling redundancies, pay cuts, furlough and recruitment to remote working, workplace safety and employee wellbeing.

Charles Cotton, senior reward and performance adviser at the CIPD, said many HR people would be surprised by the findings. “While awareness within business and society of the critical importance of good people management has increased as a result of the pandemic, this doesn’t appear to have translated into higher pay,” he said.

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But Cotton added that the research by Reed was just one review of earnings, and that a fuller understanding of the situation would emerge in the coming months.

Of the HR professionals polled by Reed, 45 per cent said they either knew or believed that they would be paid more if they changed roles – something that Bukola Odofin, HR expert at Reed, said ought to concern employers.

“There is a real opportunity for employers looking to attract HR talent to manage workforce change and strengthen their businesses,” she said. “It has never been more important that HR professionals, whether in or out of work, continue to hone their skills – setting them apart from the competition.”

However, Odofin said the situation for HR professionals was likely to improve. “The enforced move to remote working has meant companies across the UK have had to adapt fast. This rapid future proofing of the workforce has been problematic, but has set businesses in good stead for the future. It also means it’s vital for businesses to attract HR talent to continue to manage workforce change and employee wellbeing,” she said. 

Last year, a separate study by Reward Gateway showed the extent of the impact of the past year on HR. In its international poll of 751 HR leaders, seven in 10 (71 per cent) said a lack of resources, time and money had made 2020 the most challenging year they had ever experienced.

The research, which also surveyed 1,510 employees, found 51 per cent were looking to move jobs, citing feelings of underappreciation and a lack of recognition (30 per cent), a lack of support (26 per cent) and insufficient connection to the company (23 per cent) as their reasons.