6 ways the role of HR has dramatically changed

Last updated:
December 16, 2020
June 13, 2022
min read
Adrie Smith
Table of contents

Whether you are a multi-national corporate concern or a growing start-up, the role of HR forms part of the foundation of your business success. Whether you have one member of staff or tens of thousands of employees, HR responsibilities come into play the moment you decide you have a vacancy to fill.

But HR is about much more than just filling vacancies. The recruitment process is only one of the many aspects on the human resources responsibilities list. The role of HR is also defined by the size of your business as well as your industry.

There’s no one-size-fits-all HR solution

Unlike some other specialist roles, the skills and responsibilities of an HR practitioner are dictated by the industry they work in. Most senior HR professionals specialize in areas like retail, financial services, manufacturing, technology, etc. because of the specific nuances of each sector.

Most countries apportion different sections of labor law to accommodate industry requirements. Understanding and implementing the appropriate sections of labor relations is a critical role in HR. For example, retail workers are usually required to work longer hours that includes overtime pay, and workers in the agricultural sector must comply with seasonal requirements. It’s human resources responsibility to ensure that both employers and employees are aware of relevant legislation.

Working in a unionized environment brings additional regulation and legislation that human resources practitioners must understand and communicate. In all union negotiations, including disputes, the role of HR is usually that of mediator between union officials and management. The value of human resources as an impartial and fair mediator is crucial to maintain trust and keep communication channels open.

Communication is a key role of HR

Despite the high level of specialist skills required in the human resources department, HR is all about accurate, informative and professional communication. A highly effective HR department keeps the business operating within the parameters of compliance and ensures business continuity by efficiently managing employees.

Although that definition may seem quite straightforward, the responsibilities of human resources are vast with far-reaching consequences. HR is involved in every aspect of the business and dictates the pace of employee engagement.

HR isn’t what it used to be

The modern HR landscape has evolved radically and will continue to evolve.  If a company fails to embrace the needs of the changing workforce (as well as keep a watch on HR influencers in tech), they’ll be left behind, and profits will begin to dwindle.

Yesterday’s business model saw compartmentalized departments that communicated by written email memos and formal inter-division meetings. The human resources department was mainly responsible for:

  • Sourcing and engaging new employees through reactive hiring.
  • Compiling employee contracts and negotiating employee benefits.
  • Onboarding new employees and conducting exit interviews.
  • Compiling data from performance appraisals and distributing results.
  • Staff training, gap-analysis, training recommendations, and sourcing trainers.
  • Keeping abreast with labor legislation and keeping management updated.
  • Chairing and ensuring the fairness of grievance and disciplinary procedures.
  • Payroll, although many companies view payroll as a finance function.
  • Adding new and removing terminated employees, adjusting for increases, etc.
  • Occupational health and safety in some industries; high-risk industries have a separate dedicated department.

The human resources department was often left out of strategic planning and advised once a plan of action was already being implemented. Little emphasis was placed on employee engagement and staff were considered an expense. So you had a small, elite group of people running an organization with the majority of people taking instruction and finding out about major issues after the event. But no more!

The changing role of HR

HR today is a dynamic department that makes use of different technologies to automate processes and improve communication. Boardroom executives have also come to recognize the value of human resources and staff are no longer viewed as an expense but as human capital.

HR plays a vital role in strategic planning because the department is tasked with ensuring that core roles are filled with the best candidates at the appropriate time. Also, employee engagement has become a priority for retaining and attracting the best talent.

HR tech has taken care of the daily administration with many different operational functions across an organization integrating into one system. The various departments can extract any information they require and automatically update information for another division. No more batches that need to be captured! Even field staff contribute to HR systems via mobile apps. All information is up to date and relevant, so no one is left out of the chain of communication.

Relevant: What is agile HR and why you need it now

6 priorities on today’s human resources responsibilities list

1. Sourcing top talent and building a talent pool to fill future vacancies

All business is conducted in a competitive environment, and everyone is clambering to get the best staff. The role of HR in employer branding and mastering the art is essential to attracting candidates that will add value to your business.

To do that, human resources professionals have had to shift to a more sales and marketing mindset. Interaction with each division in the company is essential to build an employer brand that compliments the company brand and also reflects the company culture and vision.

2. Managing staff retention through employee engagement

The role of HR doesn’t end when a new employee has been added to the system and gone through the onboarding process. Staff retention is vital to the success of any business. Regularly replacing people and retraining comes at a high cost.

The best way to retain staff is to know if they’re happy, and that’s what HR works to establish. We live in a world of instant access to information, live streaming, live updates… We’re no longer accustomed to hearing yesterday’s news today, and employees feel the same way. HR is responsible for setting up and managing social business tools that allow employees to communicate with each other, and be heard when it matters. Managed portals for general announcements, a virtual suggestions box, compliments, and gripes – all communication in real time so that all employees feel valued and included. Groups can also be set up via collaboration tools that allow staff to interact and brainstorm without having to call meetings. This doesn’t just add to job satisfaction; it also improves productivity, customer service and saves time.

Human resources have become the indispensable link between the loyalty of the workforce and the attitude of management. Without a strong HR department, the talent competition could harm your employee retention rate.

3. Employee wellness

In the past, employee wellness wasn’t very high on any boardroom agenda, but things have changed. Executives have realized that a happy and healthy workforce is a productive workforce. The role of HR in employee wellness is crucial.

Apart from the fact that HR is the line of communication and mediation between employees and management, human resources also play a role in mentoring. In a company with a good mentorship policy, HR sources potential mentors and matches them with mentees. HR will also follow their progress by gathering feedback from both parties to ensure the match is successful and beneficial.

Employee mental and physical health also falls under the umbrella of HR. Personal counseling, as well as medical care, are provided by many employers. And HR is tasked with sourcing healthcare professionals, as well as managing individual cases. General staff wellness days are also trendy, and HR invites healthcare service providers to an open day where employees can meet up with them.

4. Employee compensation and benefits

Employee cash remuneration is always discussed with individual line and hiring managers, and annual increases are kept in line with strategic policies made at the executive level.  HR generally only make recommendations and reports on market-related statistics gathered from reputable sources like PayScale.

The role of HR in staff benefits is more significant. It’s usually HR executives who will negotiate with medical and pension schemes to get the best benefits for their employees. There are also more and more loyalty schemes coming to the fore, and again, HR executives will negotiate with brands for loyalty points or discounts on behalf of their workforce.

5. Compliance with labor law and local legislation

Ensuring compliance is usually the responsibility of an appointed HR representative with a legal background as it can become very complicated. Investing in HR tech also helps because systems are updated to accommodate existing and changes to legislation like the recent GDPR compliance law that was implemented in the EU a year ago.

Non-compliance is very damaging for any business, but if your company transgresses labor laws, it will do massive damage to your employer brand. Ignorance of the law isn’t an excuse! It’s best for smaller companies to outsource compliance to a law company because in most countries labor law covers everything from advertising vacancies to health and safety, disputes and disciplinary hearings, to terminations and final pay-out.

6. Employee training and development

It’s far better to upskill a good employee than to hire a new person. Training and development is a crucial role in HR who work closely with line management to identify training needs as well as future leadership potential. Training can be handled internally, or HR can source suitable training institutions.

Apart from input from line management, HR also regularly use psychometric assessments to identify inherent strengths in employees. You are much more likely to get employee buy-in and improved productivity if staff know that there are real prospects for growth. Graduate programs and internships are also an excellent opportunity to recognize any kind of potential.

The value of human resources doesn’t end there

Every organization is unique in its requirements, culture and policies and procedures. The human resources department is the glue that binds the virtual company persona with the real workforce and customer base. The role of HR is to compile and implement policies and procedures that will ensure intentions are converted to realities.

Human resources is the interface with what we want to be and what we are right now. No company can reach their business goals unless they understand their workforce and their customer base.

Did you know that research shows that 69% of managers are uncomfortable communicating with their employees? Can your business afford that kind of miscommunication? Employees are often more in touch with customer expectations than what management is, and it’s through HR that lines of communication between staff and management are kept open and transparent.

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