How have HR careers changed over time?


Several decades ago HR professionals might have been expected to keep staff records, sort payroll, carry out disciplinary meetings, keep track of staff holidays, ensure statutory obligations were fulfilled and that was that. Employee engagement and company culture simply didn’t come into it. And of course, automation and AI were still in the realms of sci-fi.

But in just a few years the HR landscape has been transformed – huge technological advances, a harsh recession and a new generation of workers who view employment in a totally different way have all helped to reshape the industry.

It’s perhaps the shift towards employee-focused workplaces which has had one of the biggest impacts, and this phenomenon is set to continue. It’s also something all businesses need to embrace if they haven’t already done so, to ensure business success - the emphasis on human capital is critical.

The rise in automation and AI

Some of you reading this might remember a time when holidays were written on a giant wall calendar and payroll was run manually. You might also remember how things changed for the better as computers became more commonplace, albeit with laborious spreadsheets and rudimentary data input functions. But it’s really in the last decade or two that there has been a seismic shift in the technology HR professionals use.

Cloud-based HR software has transformed many core HR processes, automating everything from holiday requests and staff rotas, to employee document storage and performance management. It has cut a swathe through the time spent on these areas, freeing up HR professionals to focus more on the employee-centred side of the role. It has also allowed HR experts to have access to data anywhere in the world, to work seamlessly with other departments and clients and to offer a far more comprehensive and cohesive service.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is also helping to streamline many repetitive HR functions and is having an increasing impact on recruitment. Chatbots are being used more and more to personalise the experience of candidates, plus, they don’t have the same unconscious bias as humans so will not discriminate or be affected by stereotypes linked to gender, race, ethnicity or gender. Getting rid of human bias also relieves HR professionals of the huge burden of sifting through pages and pages of data, CVs and applications allowing them to concentrate on the interview stages.

Analytics will play an increasing role

It’s only recently that HR professionals are taking note of analytics and starting to look at how predictive analytics can positively impact a business. Some HR practitioners have used metrics to measure the impact of training programmes, but increasingly experts are realising they can leverage company staff data to improve performance. For example, it’s no longer a case of measuring who attended what training programme but rather going further and measure the success of such a training programme through increased productivity.

HR gets social

It wasn’t so long ago that companies were extremely nervous about employees using social media – Twitter was barely heard of and Facebook was seen as a dangerous distraction that reduced productivity. As a result many businesses banned or block use of such sites. But in recent years HR departments have taken a more relaxed view on staff using such platforms. Of course there are always going to be funny video distractions, but increasingly HR is realising it is also an effective method of communication between staff – eventually email may fall by the wayside and communication will take place through social media or other instant messaging tools.

It’s also proving to be a great way of engaging with employees and fuelling a positive company culture for many.

Higher demand on company culture and employee wellbeing

For a long time companies have offered competitive salaries and good benefits to attract decent staff but the engagement with employees didn’t tend to move beyond that. However, there has been a huge shift, particularly with Millennials looking for a different way of working, towards employee-centric workplaces.

HR departments are increasingly looking at employee engagement and how that feeds into a positive company culture. Hiring policies are being rewritten to include cultural fit with a focus on matching a prospective employee with organisational culture. Once employees join, HR now also plays a vital role in making sure they stay onboard by safeguarding culture, facilitating continuous communication and recognising and rewarding performance.

More companies outsourcing

As companies look to streamline services and save on costs they’re increasingly outsourcing their HR requirements, so rather than having a huge HR department they’re employing fewer practitioners and rely on a mixture of automated software and consultants as and when the need arises.

The reasons for outsourcing are myriad. An obvious one is to save costs, but also HR is becoming more of a 'gig role' for many because companies want to focus their attention and budgets on strategy so outsourcing time-consuming administrative tasks. It also helps with compliance. As the law around HR grows increasingly complex, bringing in a third party is a way of ensuring they’re compliant and not at risk of breaking the law.

Outside HR practitioners can also offer accuracy, and in-house companies may not have the experience necessary to fulfil all HR functions. Taking advantage of technological advances is another reason for increasingly outsourced HR – with cloud-based software easily accessible and cost-effective, companies simply no longer need large HR departments to deal with everything.

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