How HR Has Changed

With technology automating many aspects of human resources – from recruitment to management and training – we asked some senior people in the field to help us understand how the role of HR has changed…

What are you doing now that you weren’t 10 years ago?

Gary Browning, CEO of people management business Penna Plc, says that “a key thread of change” has been the rise of digitisation in the workplace.

“This has presented a particularly interesting challenge for HR as essentially a people business where there is a careful balance to be struck between cost-efficient processes and retaining that human aspect that is HR’s essence.” However, he adds that a clear benefit of the technological changes is the automation of tasks such as payroll plus holiday and performance management record-keeping. “This provides the opportunity for HR to focus on more strategic issues that support business growth like talent management, succession planning and recruitment.”

How HR Has Changed

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Is HR now more strategically important than it was?

Jo Harley, Managing Director at HR consultancy Purple Cubed, says it is. The company’s recent survey of clients showed 100% of respondents believed a robust people strategy was vital for growth and critical for business survival. Jo says:

“Twenty years ago, this sort of response and attitude to HR would rarely have existed. This is thanks to an increased focus on HR as a proactive business driver, whereas before it was far more reactive and often more concerned with ‘staying out of trouble’.”

Catriona Whitford, VP of HR and Corporate Affairs at global energy, water and maintenance solutions provider NCH Europe, agrees, pointing to HR’s role in concepts such as employee engagement, which is now recognised as directly influencing a company’s performance.

Is keeping up with employment law difficult?

Nathan Combes is an employment lawyer with Lupton Fawcett Denison Till and advises HR professionals. He says:

“The development of family-friendly rights and the extension of equality and diversity provisions, while welcome, has definitely placed a greater burden on HR professionals. They must ensure that their professional knowledge remains up to date as well as their company’s policies and procedures, in order to effectively communicate these rights to employees and enforce them.”

He adds: “Additionally, in recent years the rise of Twitter and Facebook, together with other social media platforms, has resulted in a need for HR professionals to be more concerned than ever with the actions of employees outside the workplace. This is the case both in terms of the potential for damage to be caused to a business’s reputation and inappropriate or offensive content generally.”

How HR Has Changed

What are some of the other challenges?

Renae Jackson heads HR at marketing and PR agency Search Laboratory. She says:

“In certain industries skills shortages pose an enormous challenge. Staff retention and complex people issues are certainly up there, too.”

Catriona Whitford adds: “The business landscape is constantly adapting and evolving so people in HR must be able to do the same. Like I said, no two days are ever exactly the same and it’s never boring!”

What are people’s misconceptions about HR?

Lorraine Stevens, of HR4Business, says:

“I spend a lot of my time working with smaller businesses that still see HR as an administrative function or a role to rely on when something goes wrong. Unfortunately, they do not often see the benefit of investing in their biggest and often most expensive asset – their people.”

Interested in a career in HR – or already working in this area but looking for new opportunities? Look no further.