Navigating the pandemic, battling the Great Resignation, fighting for greater diversity and inclusion… HR has certainly had its collective hands full over the past few years.

But, despite becoming a key strategic partner for many forward-thinking organisations, it seems that a great many HR professionals still don’t feel valued by their employers. Research conducted by HR Dive in July 2022 discovered that 34% of their respondents only felt ‘somewhat valued’ by their organisation, whilst 8% of them didn’t feel valued at all.

How can HR improve its image? Cezanne HR blog

Although 60% of HR professionals surveyed did feel ‘highly’ or ‘very’ valued by their organisation, these numbers have barely changed since HR Dive’s last survey in 2020. This is incredibly surprising given the events of the past couple of years.

HR has been pivotal in helping huge numbers of businesses shift to remote and hybrid working, including supporting greater health and wellbeing strategies and encouraging employee-centric work cultures. So, what could be leading to HR feeling undervalued by their organisations?

Battling the negative perceptions of HR

The truth is, HR has always had something of an image problem. Indeed, a KPMG/Economist Intelligence Unit survey once stated that HR people weren’t forward-looking enough, were too immersed in the day-to-day tactical stuff and were failing to add value to the business.

It isn’t just battling leadership scepticism that HR must contend with, though. There is much-publicised evidence to suggest that trust in HR doesn’t come easily to employees either, with research indicating that up to 70% of them distrust their HR departments. Writing for LinkedIn, Talent Expert Vivek Balokhra believes this perception of HR stems from a lack of departmental transparency and employee-friendly values.

Often perceived as distrustful, not considered a strategic partner and accused of not bringing value to their organisations – is it any wonder a great deal of HR professionals feel somewhat demoralised?

HR needs to improve its image

What all the above tells us is that – unfairly – HR still has something of an image problem. Even if an HR department are doing all the right things, they need to work harder than most to demonstrate their value to everyone in the business and the return on investment their activities bring.

Although HR will always be working for the employer, a great HR team has the interests of its employees – as well as the business – at its heart. The problem is, to those on the outside at least, it may not always appear so.

The following pointers should help HR improve their image and ensure that their continued efforts don’t go unnoticed, unvalued or unappreciated…

Ensure you’re business savvy

HR people can often be criticised for a general lack of business nous. But, given they’re tasked with managing the entire employee lifecycle, that criticism isn’t totally accurate or fair!

To counter this assumption, make sure you have a full understanding of the business, the direction it is heading in and the sector trends that will influence the way it operates in the future. This will help you devise people plans that support the wider business strategy and can help the organisation achieve its growth targets.

It’s important to show you’re financially savvy, too. If you can speak to finance people in their own language, you’re much more likely to gain their support and respect. This is especially true when it comes to any strategies or business cases you may want to put forward for the organisation.

Develop an external perspective

Lift your head every now and then and look at what’s happening in the world around you. To give an example, the 2016 Rethinking HR for a Changing World report said finding and keeping top talent would be one of the biggest challenges for HR in the years ahead – and they weren’t wrong! So, always make sure to keep up to date with the latest HR challenges.

Although the Great Resignation was the biggest topic of conversation post-pandemic, we’re now seeing a cooling labour market, a growing skills shortage and economic uncertainty – all of which are pose new challenges for HR. Whilst understanding your own industry is vital, it’s good to know how other sectors are tackling their people issues, too.

Widen your reading, keep tabs on the latest HR news, network outside of your sector and try to attend industry conferences and events so you can pick up best practice and benchmark against other organisations.

Be visible to your own workforce

The role of HR within a business shouldn’t be a mystery to employees. In our survey into the importance of psychology in human resources management, when we asked: ‘Would you recognise a member of your HR team if you saw them?’, only 55% of people we surveyed said yes. 18% were unsure and 27% said no.

If you’re an HR team that rarely interacts with the wider workforce, it can be extremely difficult to build good working relationships or dispel those feelings of distrust. Writing for LinkedIn, Sanketh Ramkrishnamurthy, Head of HR at AutoRABIT perhaps summed it up well, saying that “Being visible as a HR Leader or a Manager or a HR Professional is a critical success factor. They [the workforce] should feel that we [HR] are a part of organisation culture who represents a great balanced interest of employees, managers, and shareholders.”

“We need to be visible on the floor. We must meet our people in corridors or cafeterias. We must respond to all emails coming to our mailboxes. We must present proposals, and then communicate successes and failures we have undergone during following months. The visibility of Human Resource in the organization makes us real.”

Embrace a digital transformation

Many businesses have now switched onto the fact that HR technology can do much to streamline people processes and free up time – allowing HR and business leaders to concentrate on more pressing strategic issues. In fact, the continued digitisation of HR is believed by the CIPD to be one of the key HR trends over the next 15-20 years at least.

HR platforms can help alleviate many of the repetitive tasks that HR often get bogged down by, simplify day-to-day processes, and better connect employees with both their data and each other. This leads to improved workplace efficiencies – helping boost the bottom line – and frees HR from much of the tedious admin they’re often associated with, leaving them able to concentrate on more visible and strategic objectives.

Get closer to the line

Line managers are the people who will be implementing your HR policies and practices and managing employees on the front line.

Having a clear idea of their issues and challenges will help you put together people strategies that can make a real difference to the business. Talk to line managers about their pain points – the things that are stopping them developing revenue or retaining customers – and develop a joint action plan that’s directly related to the bottom line.

Developing internal alliances will also help you earn kudos with the board. It will show you have support internally and help you build a network of people who are willing to lobby on your behalf when trying to get senior level to buy into your plans.

Demonstrate ROI

Soft HR initiatives are notoriously difficult to evaluate. It’s a real challenge to prove, for example, how an employee engagement programme has had an impact on productivity and profitability.

Try to establish trust by focusing on activities that are easier to associate with cost. If absences are high, put in place measures to monitor and address them. If retention is an issue, do the research to understand how much it’s costing you and what the underlying causes are.

Make sure you regularly measure and benchmark key metrics, and set clear and measurable objectives for everything you do. This will mean you can demonstrate the return on investment as your project progresses. Showing a clear line of sight between your intervention and the bottom line will help managers throughout the business see and understand how HR is adding crucial value.

Paul Bauer author image

Paul Bauer

Paul Bauer is the Head of Content at Cezanne HR. Based in the Utopia of Milton Keynes (his words, not ours!) he’s worked within the employee benefits, engagement and HR sectors for over four years. He's also earned multiple industry awards for his work - including a coveted Roses Creative Award.

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