HR professionals struggling to shake off ‘pen pusher’ image: 360-Degree Appraisal of HR

The vast majority of line managers working across all industries still see the HR function as mainly administrative, according to exclusive research by Personnel Today, in association with recruitment consultancy Proactive HR.

The views of just under 2,000 line managers who responded to the 360-Degree Appraisal of HR revealed that perceptions of how vital HR was to business changed dramatically depending on the industry they worked in.

The banking, professional services, information technology, communications and social care sectors saw HR as bad news, for instance. However, the construction, catering and hospitality industries felt the profession added value to the business and helped to push their own careers forward.

Line managers in other sectors – such as manufacturing, transport, distribution and retail – believed that HR helped to improve the way they worked, although experiences were mixed when it came to how well it handled pay, training and recruitment.

But one thing the majority of managers agreed on – at least three-quarters from across all industry sectors that were surveyed – was that the HR function was still mainly about paperwork.

So what can HR directors in the sectors that were slated by their line managers learn from the research, and their more popular counterparts in other industries?

Some of the industry views are outlined below, and more appears in our special feature section.

The good – construction

Making sure line managers understood the benefit of talking to HR seemed to be the main difference between practitioners being seen in a positive light or a negative one.

In stark contrast to the banking, professional services, manufacturing, IT and communications sectors, managers in the construction industry mainly had praise for HR.

HR scored highly among 67% of respondents on pay and benefits, and its ability to arrange training was applauded by 68%. Construction line managers felt HR was giving something back to their business rather than simply sitting behind a desk.

Twice as many line managers – four out of 10 – felt the performance of HR in construction firms had a direct affect on the success of the business, compared with those in the banking and professional services.

About six in 10 (57%) believed HR understood the needs of their business.

Catering and hospitality

As with the construction industry, there certainly appeared to be a link between HR being regarded as a good thing and them grasping what their business was all about. Most line managers in the catering industry gave HR a pat on the back, and 64% felt it understood the needs of their business.

But it was still admin, not people management, that HR was best known for among respondents, although HR in this sector delivered well in these areas. More than 60% said it handled pay and benefits well, and 62% said recruitment was good or very good.

More than seven out of 10 (72%) said grievances were well addressed by HR and 41% felt it was good value for money.

The bad

Banking and professional services

There were few HR fans at financial services companies, where HR was best known for the handling of pay and benefits.

Almost two-thirds (64%) of line managers slammed HR for its failure to sort out succession planning 57% argued it also didn’t handle change management well and 44% said it failed to pull its finger out when it comes to training.

Rebecca George, talent management assistant in Co-op Financial Services’ HR team, said: “Going forward, we are planning to spend more time with line managers explaining the value of different ways of doing things.”

Only two out of 10 line managers at banks and professional services firms felt HR directly affected the success of a business, and 47% believed HR did not offer value for money.

IT and communications

More than 80% of line managers in IT and communications saw HR as administrative. Overall, the profession was seen in a negative light, with 52% of managers feeling it failed to deliver on pay and benefits.

More than half (53%) felt HR was not value for money, and 44% believed HR did not know enough about what IT did to have a positive impact.


Perhaps the death of certain lines of manufacturing in the UK was to blame for HR being talked about in less than glowing terms by line managers in this industry.

Half (49%) associated HR with bad news, and only six out of 10 felt it impacted on the success of their employer.

Paul Tonks, group HR director of manufacturer Aga Foodservice Group, said it was HR’s responsibility to pass on messages from the top. Because of closures in the car manufacturing industry and the need for HR to deliver bad news, Tonks said it was hardly surprising that the function was not always popular.

What the research did show, he added, was that it was important that negative messages were not just passed on, but also explained. Staff responses should be listened to and, where possible, action should be taken.

“Delivery of the admin side of things should be a given,” Tonks said. “HR should be getting out and about, taking on board feedback and helping people contribute to their organisation.”

The confused

Sectors where line managers were confused as to what the point of HR really was generally seemed to work less closely with the function.

In social care, it was strange that line managers found HR was failing to practice the all-important personal touch that it preaches, with 52% saying HR was unapproachable.

Social care line managers mainly sought HR’s assistance on sickness absence (59%) and poor performance issues (43%).

Similarly, the transport, distribution and retail sectors did not fully condemn HR, but were also reluctant to applaud it. Reaction to HR in these sectors was mixed 48% believed it added value to their business, but almost half (46%) felt the HR function failed to help them progress theirown careers.

Lessons learned?

Jackie Lanham, director of HR services for insurance firm Norwich Union, said the survey showed that while it was vital HR professionals delivered the basics – pay, benefits and training – practitioners needed to champion their staff and sing their own praises a bit more if perceptions were to improve.

“This shows HR does not market itself as well as it could do,” she said.

Sectors that are facing challenges should use them as an opportunity to prove HR was about more than just making sure people got paid, according to Mandy Clarke, group HR director of structural engineers Halcrow.

“In our industry, you have to show value, and not just be seen as an overhead function. The industry is going through a lot of change and we are fighting to attract and retain talent,” she said.

“HR can play a key part in assisting the business to address these issues, and in many ways can be really proactive.”

How HR is viewed by different industries

Comments are closed.