Recession raises profile of HR profession among the UK’s top managers

The HR world is increasingly gaining respect from top managers as it becomes more visible as a result of the recession, new research has shown.

A poll of more than 900 managers by business school Roffey Park, seen by Personnel Today, found that more than two-thirds agreed their HR function added value to the business and was influential.

The views fly in the face of a similar poll carried out by the same researchers a year ago, which asked managers to choose from a drop-down list of statements about HR. Just 30% of managers ticked that HR added value to their organisation.

Of the managers surveyed between July and September 2009, 59% described HR as credible, 68% said the function added value to the business, and 69% agreed it was influential.

Nearly two-thirds (60%) disagreed with the view that HR was out of touch, and 75% disagreed that the function was busy producing too many initiatives.

Jo Hennessy, director of research at Roffey Park and author of The Annual Management Agenda, said HR functions were “really starting to deliver” for some organisations, which was partly due to the economic climate.

“This recession has given HR the opportunity to step in and help the business around what are the best ways of managing its people and people costs to deliver business objectives,” she said. “Senior managers were more likely to be positive about the HR function and are working with HR and noticing the difference it is making.”

However, views were mixed on how proactive HR was, with half of the managers polled agreeing and half disagreeing. The picture was the same when it came to its strategic contribution and the extent to which it is customer focused.

Hennessy added that middle managers had the least positive view of HR often because services had been outsourced to call centres, which meant they “do not see their HR manager anymore”.

Martin Rayson, HR transformation lead at the Public Sector People Managers Association, said: “I have no doubt [the change in attitude] is due to the recession; adversity brings opportunity and it has brought opportunity for HR.

“Perhaps people, by necessity, have been forced to recognise the value of HR. People have recognised the challenges that we face demand real leadership in the organisation, a focus on disciplines and skills that perhaps have been neglected a bit. Things like workforce planning.”

Elsewhere, a separate study of 253 employers by IRS, published exclusively by XpertHR, showed that two-thirds thought the influence of the HR function has increased over the past two years.

Almost three-quarters of the employers survey (72%) rated their HR function as “very effective”. The HR roles and responsibilities survey covered a combined workforce of 355,000 people.

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