Report: HR Playing an Increasing Role in Strategy

The McLean & Company survey found that human resources departments are under more pressure to improve professional development and return-to-office policies.

HR departments will play a stronger role in hybrid and remote workplace policies, leadership training, and overall organizational strategy in 2024, according to a new report.

HR Trends Report 2024, published last week by HR consultancy McLean & Company, is based on a survey of more than 1,700 business professionals in September. The report highlights the increased role the HR function has in organizations: For instance, 50 percent of respondents say HR is “a partner in planning and executing organizational strategy,” an increase from 36 percent in 2021.

Much of that increase is due to an increased need to retain key employees, said Will Howard, director of HR research and advisory services at McLean & Company. “It’s been harder to hire and find the skills that organizations need to succeed,” he said. “So there’s been a recognition that we need to retain the folks we have, upskill the folks we have, invest more in those people. And obviously HR is the most important partner for everything related to that.”

81 percent of respondents say their organizations have no plans to change their flex-work policies.

One element of that retention effort is an increased need in organizations to provide leadership training for all employees, not just select cohorts. According to the report, that effort is moving slowly: While 70 percent of respondents say leadership skills for all employees is a high priority, only a third of respondents say office workers are “highly proficient” at those skills.

In light of that, many companies are looking at changes, said LynnAnn Brewer, Executive Advisor at McLean & Company. “Organizations are really examining the modalities, the methods of learning, the methods of delivery, integrating new technology and meeting learners where they are,” she said.

Another point of tension, according to the report, is return-to-office (RTO) policies: 81 percent of respondents say their organizations have no plans to change their policies around workplace flexibility in the coming year. But Brewer said that many employees have resisted top-down RTO policies. “What we’re finding is the ones that are doing it in a way that makes sense for the employees are the ones based on listening to employees,” she said. “That means having a more general broad policy that allows the manager and employee to determine where and how the work is done.”

The report also cites “providing a great employee experience” as a top priority in the coming year—organizations with them claim better productivity and less turnover. But Howard notes that the employee experience can be tricky to measure. “We often think about the employee experience as dramatic moments—getting promoted, or getting passed over for promotion,” he said. “But it is truly the culmination of every experience. When you need to call the help desk and it takes 15 minutes to get logged in, that’s a negative impact on the employee experience. When you have a great conversation with a senior leader at the water cooler, that’s a great positive employee experience.”

To gain clarity on how these experiences add up, Brewer said organizations should ramp up their data-gathering efforts. “Use engagement surveys, exit surveys, new-hire surveys, focus groups, listening sessions, polls,” she said. “Use all those little moments where employees can provide feedback around their experience, take that, synthesize it, and look for themes.”


Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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