The role of HR has fundamentally changed. How’s your team responding?

By Jordan Feldman

70% of HR teams have to meet substantially higher demands. But only 20.8% have grown in the last two years. Learn how to do more with less.

Jordan blog image [April 2022]

The last few years have left HR professionals overworked and overwhelmed. Just 10 minutes into our recent webinar, “Capitalize on the ‘benefits renaissance,’” some hard numbers were staring us in the face. 

We had just conducted a live poll of the webinar audience, made up of HR and benefits leaders, asking them two questions:

  • “How much has your HR team grown in the last two years?” 

  • “How much have the expectations of your HR team grown in the last two years?”

As the results came up on the screen, I couldn’t hold back an exclamation. Only 20% of HR teams had grown “substantially.” And yet, 70% were being asked to meet “substantially” higher demands. 

The mismatch between those two numbers says it all. The pandemic touched off a period of dramatic change for HR professionals, and the aftershocks continue to intensify.

HR requirements have increased tremendously.

It was easy for the webinar panelists to list reasons why expectations of HR teams have escalated. Lee Lewis, Chief Strategy Officer at Health Transformation Alliance, said that HR teams have been called upon to solve a larger set of problems. The HR function has seen new responsibilities develop, such as helping teams adapt to remote and hybrid work environments, and dealing with talent retention and acquisition challenges brought on by an increasingly hot talent market. 

Meanwhile, the problems that were already there are worsening. Mental health is a more pressing concern. Churn among employees has manifested as The Great Resignation, driven partly by new opportunities to work from anywhere, mishandled pandemic policies, burnout and lack of recognition. “We’re trying to attack an exponential problem with linear deployment and linear resources,” Lewis said. 

Michael Ross, Lecturer in Management at Stanford Business School and former CHRO for Visa, echoed this analysis, noting that before COVID-19, benefits professionals specifically were on a regular annual cycle of investment, benefits design and enrollment. The focus was on running the plans and programs that were already in place — hopefully more efficiently and effectively — with incremental innovation.

The pandemic put a tremendous amount of additional pressure on employers. To respond to the crisis, they needed all hands on deck. People stepped up to help manage potential layoffs, conduct employee surveys, respond to vaccine mandates, and negotiate a safe return to the office.

Challenging times, to be sure. The question is, how do we transform some of these challenges into new opportunities for success?

Three ways HR teams will win.

What are sustainable and proactive strategies that can help HR teams adapt to shifting demands? Team expansion would certainly help — but what about organizations where this is not an option (or it’s not enough)? How can teams equip themselves to do more with less?

Three promising strategies emerged during our webinar:

  1. Select benefits that ease the daily burden on the HR team. Certain benefits, like care navigation, reduce the workload for HR staff. They are often forced to serve as the support system for employees as they navigate their healthcare journey, demanding significant time and energy. The right care navigation solution provides a single point of entry for employees to access the healthcare system. It delivers one-on-one guidance from experts who can answer questions that would have otherwise necessitated hours of assistance from their HR rep. 

  2. Review gaps in your benefits stack. As many employers try to achieve greater agility when it comes to HR tools and technology, they’re re-examining existing vendors to assess the value they’re getting. Now is the time to ask the hard questions from your partners. Inquire about low utilization, push back on the lack of data and demand a clear ROI. If you don’t feel like you’re getting the answers, there’s likely a better fit that can cater to the needs of your team; the crux of the benefits renaissance is the emergence of new solutions attacking problems that have never been adequately addressed. Now is the time to take charge of your benefits stack and elevate the employee experience. 

  3. Do more with data. HR may not have been a power user of data in the past, but forward-thinking HR teams are turning to data to mine insights about their teams. It could be time to upskill the data analysts on your team, bring on candidates with strong data backgrounds, or shift other data resources from within the company to the HR team. Are you getting the right reporting to make informed decisions? Would additional data allow you to run more useful analytics? Do you have the resources to run them? By asking these questions, you’ll start to see where additional data can help you maximize the investments you make in your team. 

These are the three key strategies HR teams need to adopt to start responding to increased organizational demands. Watch the entire webinar to learn more about capitalizing on the momentum happening in HR.

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