No sooner has the year begun, and another gauntlet has been thrown down for HR professionals – this time in the form of a survey from People Management magazine, suggesting that the profession is suffering from a ‘visibility and engagement’ issue and has a major PR job to do.

The YouGov survey of over 1,000 workers suggests that there is a real disconnect between HR people and the employees they serve. A quarter of those questioned said they didn’t know what the department does, with 48 per cent reporting no contact with HR in the past year. Of those who had rubbed shoulders with HR, the majority (53 per cent) had done so for ‘transactional’ reasons, such as changing their pay details or querying their holiday entitlement.

In an editorial in People Management magazine, CIPD Chief Executive Peter Cheese calls for HR to stop hiding its light under a bushel and make moves to ensure the impact of its work, and the value it brings to the business, is more widely understood.

“We need to take heed of how employees as well as management view us. And if they feel we are remote and purely an administrative function, we need to get out there, engage and fulfil our role in supporting and connecting with the workforce,” he says.

So, what can HR people do to raise their profile with both management and employees and set themselves up for success in 2016?

1. Cut down your admin

What are the time consuming tasks that clog up your inbox and stop you focusing on the more strategic aspects of your role? Are you wasting valuable hours responding to queries about holiday entitlement, for example, or chasing managers to make sure appraisals happen when they should? If you’re not already using an HR software system, or the one you have isn’t delivering the goods, the beginning of the year is a great time to look at what’s available. The market has changed significantly in recent years and you can now find flexible, online HR solutions that can do much of the hard work for you, at a cost that’s within reach of even the smallest business. Automating core processes, such as managing absence and giving employees access to a system that will allow them to manage their own data will allow you to concentrate on the strategic aspects of your role, become more ‘visible’ in the organisation and add real value to the business.

2. Sound out the management team

What are the senior leadership’s priorities for the year ahead? Are they planning to expand into new markets, build on a key specialism or significantly grow the business? Do they want to improve retention rates or shift to a culture where employees take a more proactive role in driving the business forward? Make sure you are up to speed with the company’s core objectives so that you can provide the HR data needed to inform business decisions and support the board with appropriate HR policies. HR analytics can put important people-related information at your fingertips, pinpointing skills gaps that might undermine an expansion policy, for example, while a review of performance management processes could help the business ensure people are performing at their peak. Data gleaned from exit interviews can help solve the puzzle of why talented people are leaving, while social portals can be used to encourage more collaboration and innovation. Make sure you’re in on strategic level discussions at an early stage so that you can help the management team address the people-related implications of their plans and give their initiatives the best chance of success.

3. Get out and network

Getting out of your own corporate ‘bubble’ every now and then is a great way to stimulate your thinking and help you discover new ways of approaching old problems. Make sure you engage with your local CIPD group – many hold regular events where you can update yourself with the latest thinking on HR practice, meet like-minded colleagues and share ideas. Independent networking groups for HR professionals also exist in some areas. If you’re in London, for example, check out Corporate and Cocktails, a group which runs regular get-togethers for local HR folk. In other areas, local Chambers of Commerce or legal practices sometimes have special interest groups for HR. You can also pick up useful contacts and maybe experience some ‘aha’ moments by getting on the conference and exhibition circuit. The HR Analytics conference (9-10 Feb), Learning and Development show (11-12 May) and of course the HR Software Show (15-16 June) are a few dates to put in the diary. Don’t restrict your networking solely to HR events though – it’s also good to rub shoulders with professionals from other sectors and find out how they are approaching their challenges.

4. Invest in your own professional development

As an HR practitioner, if you want to be at the leading edge of your profession, you need to take a pro-active approach to your own personal development. HR people are often so busy focusing on other people’s development that they forget about their own – so make 2016 the year you ‘walk your own talk’ and put together a pro-active plan for improving your skills during the year. This might mean taking your formal HR qualifications to the next level or signing up for a course on an allied area such as coaching and mentoring or workplace mediation. Think widely about the areas you need to develop to support you in your role – it may be that some development outside of HR, i.e. on project management, Excel report-writing or finance for non-financial managers, would be a useful addition to your skill-set.

5. Look after your own well-being

This is another area where HR people often put themselves bottom of the pile. They develop initiatives to encourage employees to look after their physical and mental health, while ignoring the need to invest in their own well-being. A recent series of articles in the Harvard Business Review provides some interesting food for thought on ways you can ‘win at work’ by taking better care of yourself. We all need to take proper holidays and pay attention to our work-life balance, but research also suggest that literally switching off is also vital. Having your phone always by your side and constantly checking for messages can lead to poor sleep, anxiety and an impaired ability to pay attention, control our impulses and make good decisions. The latest advice is to turn off all devices an hour before bedtime to reduce the impact of the ‘blue’ light which makes us more alert and inhibits the production of melatonin which is needed to go to sleep. Protecting yourself from second-hand stress is also important. Research shows that we can pick up negativity, stress and uncertainty like second-hand smoke and even just observing someone who is stressed can have an immediate effect on our own nervous systems. Developing a positive mindset, building your self-esteem and focusing on what’s going well for you are a few of the ways to combat this knock-on effect.

Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.