Two-thirds of business leaders see HR's role as administrative, survey finds

Poll also reveals more than half of people professionals are considering quitting as burnout remains prevalent

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People professionals and C-suite executives are at loggerheads as two-thirds (63 per cent) of business leaders still view HR’s role as administrative, a survey has found.

The survey, conducted by Sage, found that the majority (86 per cent) of HR leaders feel the sector is adapting to become more speedy and agile, but only two-fifths (39 per cent) believe employees actually know what the people function does. 

The poll of 666 senior HR professionals and 356 C-suite executives, carried out as part of Sage’s The changing face of HR in 2024 report, also found that the majority of both HR leaders (73 per cent) and C-suite executives (85 per cent) agree that the term ‘human resources’ is seen as outdated. 

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Kate Palmer, HR advice and consultancy director at Peninsula, said people professionals often get a bad rap, despite their main responsibility being supporting the workforce. “Traditionally, they might have been viewed as the bad guys who only pop up to deliver bad news or when there is an issue,” said Palmer, adding that attitudes have “changed in recent years, with many more employees realising the help and assistance that HR provides”. 

However, the survey also revealed that almost two-thirds (62 per cent) of HR professionals are thinking about leaving the industry, and 81 per cent feel burnt out. 

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Gethin Nadin, psychologist and chief innovation officer at Benefex, said the last few years had been “incredibly tough” for HR, who now face new and existing problems to solve. “I am unfortunately not surprised that [many] are suffering from burnout and no doubt compassion fatigue,” said Nadin. 

“HR is a role that inherently cares for others, but they must start putting themselves first,” he added, urging HR to work closer together and “lean on each other, as well as doing the usual self-care we know we should all be doing”. 

In the survey, 76 per cent of C-suite respondents said the main focus of HR teams was processes, and 92 per cent of them thought the profession’s perceived worth was a challenge. Additionally, more than half (59 per cent) of organisations surveyed said they currently used people analytics and cloud HR systems, and a majority (83 per cent) said not having the right HR technology was a challenge for the future. 

Liz Sebag-Montefiore, career coach and director of HR consultancy 10Eighty, said talented people professionals aimed to drive strategy and contribute value across the firm as HR evolved in the post-pandemic climate, but to do this they “absolutely need a solid understanding of critical financial information, including financial and operational metrics”.

“This knowledge combined with a strategic mindset enables HR professionals to collaborate with other members of management in determining the strategic direction of the enterprise,” she said. 

Sebag-Montefiore added that leaders were aware of the value of having a “people savvy” approach to managing organisational change and transformation processes, and that “HR plays a crucial role” in the success of organisations, which tend to outperform their peer group when employee engagement is high.