The global pandemic has been the instigator of dramatic change in several areas of the business world, changing behaviours, expectations, roles and perceptions.

And, just as COVID-19 has profoundly impacted the role of the CEO, so too has it affected the HR department. As the branch of the company that is responsible for the effective hiring, training, developing and management of employees, HR has undoubtedly had a significant role in the continued running of countless businesses, in the wake of the upheaval brought about by the pandemic.

In a recent study conducted by Sage Advice, some 1,500 HR leaders, C-suite executives and employees in the UK, US, Canada and Australia weighed in on how COVID-19 has impacted HR departments the world over. Here are the some of the top takeaways.

Renewed importance

According to the research, HR leaders stated that their role has become more visible, leading to more influence within the company at a time when embracing change is much needed. The survey found that 65 per cent of HR leaders felt that their teams played a pivotal role in the pandemic, acting as drivers for change, putting remote working systems in place and promoting employee wellbeing. This led to more influence within the company, with 59 per cent of respondents feeling more influential as leaders.

And CEOs agree

The change in perception does not stop among HR leaders, with the research finding that C-suite executives have also recognised the importance of the HR department in this pivotal time. 87 per cent of C-suite respondents acknowledged that their HR team was responsible for leading accelerated change and driving new ways of working. Interestingly, however, 52 per cent perceive this shift as a temporary one.

Employees notice the difference

The same research found that an impressive 60 per cent of employees noticed changes in HR’s role over the last year, with 54 per cent of employees crediting their experience with the pandemic with helping them to understand HR’s role and value within the company better than before. Additionally, employees have also noticed that the HR department’s influence has made companies more people focused.

Ultimately, what companies’ experience with COVID-19 has shown is that expectations and perceptions of HR are changing at all levels, with a renewed importance and appreciation being place on HR teams. The result is that the HR leaders have gained more respect and recognition, while the sticking point remains, as with so many others – will this outlast the pandemic?

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