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5 priorities for people professionals to take the HR function forward

5 priorities for people professionals to take the HR function forward


Focus is expected to be on wellbeing, job mobility, building a professional network, and more as avenues for people practitioners to look into.

A recent survey involving people professionals in Singapore, Malaysia, and Brunei has revealed the impact of the current economic climate on organisations, how leaders feel about their current roles, what the role of people teams means today versus what it did a few years ago, and more. 

Conducted by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), the survey involved 100 people professionals – a term it used to refer to people-related roles such as HR, learning & development, organisational development, employee relations and other HR specialisms (excluding people managers) – in these markets. Excerpts of the findings, derived from the report titled HR talent trends: What's next for our senior leaders, are shared below.

The impact of today's economic climate on talent

Today, factors such as geopolitical tensions, inflation, industry change, and hybrid working are seen to be having a differential impact on sectors, according to the report. Of those surveyed, 49% felt a negative impact, while the remaining 51% felt a positive impact.

Citing specific factors, some organisations are now experiencing relative stability, with the return to travel positively impacting the business, and attrition levels normalising. At the same time, economic shifts are expected to impact long-term growth, driving a need for workforce planning and reskilling.

While there are limited global mobility opportunities in some companies due to geopolitical risk, remote working has created a wider talent pool, it was highlighted.

This aside, a group of respondents also shared their struggles with talent retention, noting that employees were taking advantage of more competitive offerings externally, having been unable to change jobs as freely during the pandemic. Adding to that, recent large-scale layoffs in various sectors has also posed a challenge to motivating remaining employees and attracting new talent to the organisation. 

In that vein, the respondents pointed out that traditional attraction and retention strategies (such as increasing remuneration and job security) are not currently viable in some sectors, thus requiring more creative long-term solutions. These include practices such as career development frameworks and more frequent individual career conversations, as well as enhancing the employee value proposition with more flexible working.

While this was so, people teams are faced with tension around delivering these solutions in a climate of higher cost-consciousness – a challenge seen particularly in Brunei, where the increase in oil prices is encouraging employees to seek better opportunities in other countries, while international assignments are limited in a country of its size.

Meanwhile, the relatively low unemployment rates in Singapore and Malaysia are likely to be adding to recruitment challenges.

Keeping the above in mind, people professionals are now focusing more on strengthening the employee experience in their organisation, re-evaluating how they support and retain employees. In particular, there is now more emphasis on wellbeing and mental health, and organisations have also redesigned their remuneration offerings to provide more financial support, although in Singapore this may not cover the extreme increase in property rental prices, it was added.

On the employees' end, expectations have become centred around personal needs and work–life balance, while hybrid working has raised challenges on maintaining engagement and connectivity with team members. In lieu of these, people teams are now having to introduce solutions that cater to the needs of different workforce segments across geographies and life stages, with the younger generation expecting more transparency, and the older generation likely seeking more opportunities for lifelong learning.

It's time to look at retaining people teams, and giving them a voice

Seeing that people teams play a pivotal role in all of the above, it brings to light the need to engage and retain these teams as much as the rest of the workforce. Among the professionals surveyed, only 54% said they were satisfied with their current job role, with the report attributing this to people teams feeling overwhelmed and facing pressures from the business to take on more with fewer resources.

In tackling this, some leaders have taken to revising their structure of their people function and streamlining activities based on where the business is heading. However, when it comes to attracting talent to these roles, companies continue to face difficulties, with talent in the market viewing the role of HR as "too challenging". There may also be a lack of awareness of the skills and expertise required to work in the profession, driving candidates to choose other fields that are more clearly defined.

"While practitioners should always try to base their decisions on evidence-based practice rather than relying on intuition alone, the nature of the people function is that there is often no formula, or right or wrong answer, since the nuances of each situation are different. This creates both a challenge and opportunity for HR talent attraction and retention," the report highlighted.

However, some senior leaders noted that attrition can provide an opportunity to refresh the people team with the new skills they need for the future, and shift mindsets away from placing HR as a back-end support function.

The report also highlighted recent trends that have caused a shift in the function:

  • New ways of working have created an unprecedented opportunity to leverage the critical role and impact of people teams, which can help to boost the attraction and retention of talent within the function.
  • The prominence of mental health, equality, diversity, and inclusion, and talent retention issues that emerged during the pandemic has driven more buy-in from business leaders for understanding people needs to support long-term performance.
  • ‘The Great Resignation’ and ‘Quiet Quitting’, alongside the shift to hybrid working, have also created more organisational-level recognition of the strategic importance of enhancing the employee experience.

As a result of these trends, there is an increasing shift away from perceptions of the people profession as a support function, towards a stronger strategic partnership role with a voice in company decision-making. Conversations around HR’s value have been particularly changing in Brunei, where the function is less developed compared with other markets in the region, per the report.

In line with this, respondents called out the need to raise the people profession's credibility within the business by increasing their visibility and exposure across the organisation as a whole. Particularly, the function needs to communicate their impact and gain support from the top, helping the rest of the organisation understand the value they can deliver. This includes working on other business initiatives, joining cross-departmental transformation projects, and working as a trusted adviser on business decisions.

5 recommendations for people professionals to prioritise

Following the key findings, the report highlighted five areas HR/people leaders can look into to prepare their people teams for the future, as well as develop their talent.

1: Focus on wellbeing

The first priority is to protect the mental health and wellbeing of people practitioners. Organisations should look to do this through a holistic approach that covers progression opportunities, flexible work options such as job-sharing and flexi-time, and setting clear boundaries between supporting the business, and looking after the team members' personal needs.

2: Position the people profession as a strategic partner

To be recognised as having an important impact and align people practices to business outcomes, HR should work collaboratively across functions and build strong relationships throughout other parts of the organisation, the report pointed out. HR business partners, in particular, are able to work closely with leaders across the organisation, and this exposure helps build the reputation of the people function as strategic advisers to respond to challenges and develop solutions.

Instead of adopting the best practices of other companies or countries, people teams must find a model that is tailored to their needs and aligned with the local culture, business strategy, and organisational values.

3: Look into enabling job mobility

Enabling job mobility within and outside the function can, no doubt, boost practitioners’ career development and skills. 

To do so, organisations can look at avenues such as job rotations, secondments, and skills-led recruitment strategies. For instance, this could mean moving an individual from the organisation design & development team to the learning & development or talent management team for a period of time, then either moving them back to their previous role, or giving them the opportunity to take on a permanent role in a different specialism.

4: Keep professional development going

As with other roles in the organisation, upskilling HR & people teams is critical to help them navigate the evolving business and economic environment. Additionally, at a global level, skills development is consistently recognised as the most important factor in advancing a career in HR, followed by manager support and professional qualifications or certifications.

Skills-wise, digital HR and skills in enabling digital transformation, as well as data analytics capabilities, will be key skills to develop in people professionals.

To keep these teams up-to-date, organisations can look at offering online learning and on-the-job training, and support professional qualifications and certifications. To become future-fit, digital HR and enabling digital transformation will be key skills for people professionals, as well as building data analytics capabilities.

5: Build a professional network

Engaging with other people professionals internally and externally (across other organisations and regions) can increase HR's prospects for career advancement – By building stronger relationship networks, professionals are able to gain more support in the industry, also giving them more confidence to pursue their career ambitions.

As pointed out, companies can enable opportunities for practitioners to build their professional network, to boost talent engagement and retention. Leveraging professional networks to see approaches role-modelled by others, and seek guidance or even mentoring opportunities, can enable the people profession to further develop key capabilities, it was added.

Details on the report

The CIPD refers to the ‘people profession’ throughout this report, which it says refers to a range of people-related roles, such as human resources, learning and development, organisational development, employee relations and other HR specialisms. It does not include people managers.

The pulse survey was conducted online between December 2022 and January 2023 with a sample of 71 people professionals. Three focus groups were conducted online between March and April 2023 with 29 people professionals, ranging from managers and directors to senior leaders.

Photo: Shutterstock

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