New research investigates the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic changed the role and perception of HR teams within the workplace.

Sage, a technology provider for SMEs, found that almost three-quarters of HR leaders (73 per cent) identified the COVID-19 pandemic as a catalyst for demonstrating their value to the rest of the business. Along with this, the respondents also felt that it helped to increase understanding around their role.

This comes after the central role that HR took during the pandemic, with HR leaders being at the forefront of moving employees from office-based working to remote working. Almost two-thirds of HR leaders (65 per cent) also felt that their teams had a leading role to play in their organisation’s response to the pandemic, with HR also being responsible for looking after employee’s wellbeing.

However, the rapid response needed meant that six in 10 HR employees (60 per cent) saw an increase in both admin and strategic tasks, as a consequence of the new HR agenda. 

Before the pandemic, over eight in 10 HR workers (84 per cent) felt that there was a lack of understanding surrounding the value that HR brought to the business. This has been overturned now with over half of C-Suite executives (58 per cent) believing that they have developed more appreciation for HR throughout the crisis.

There is some evidence to suggest, however, that the C-suite executives may not have a full understanding of the increased workload. Three-quarters (75 per cent) stated that they do not believe HR’s workload to be ‘unmanageable’, showing a potential risk that some HR teams may end up being pushed beyond their limit.

Employees were also aware of HR’s role and a third of workers felt that HR teams became more adaptable and responsive as a result of the pandemic. This could include HR’s consistent performance when it came to implementing changes including enacting workplace safety procedures, introducing new flexible and remote working policies or managing employee experiences for a remote workforce during a time of heightened stress.

However, a potential factor holding HR teams back is a lack of adequate funding. Around a third of HR professionals (31 per cent) deemed a lack of technology and investment as holding them back.

Over two-thirds of C-Suite executives (67 per cent) said that they wanted to invest more in HR technology in the future.

Paul Burrin, Vice President of Product at Sage People, said:

HR has taken on more responsibilities and helped guide the business through ongoing disruption and accelerated digital transformation. However, this has often created additional workloads which automation can help manage, increasing HR productivity, while enabling organisations to become more agile and resilient.

2020 marked a year where HR’s leaders became champions of change and both executives and employees alike have realised the greater role that HR has taken on. HR and People leaders can capitalise on this and use this opportunity to cast aside older, more cumbersome ways of working to focus instead on quicker, iterative cycles of work. In this way—with the help of automation, cloud technology, and self-service—HR can focus on maintaining influence and building a more resilient workforce that is more prepared for future challenges ahead.

This research was obtained from Sage’s report ‘HR in the moment: Changing expectations and perceptions of HR’. This report surveyed over 1500 global HR leaders, business executives and employees.





Monica Sharma is an English Literature graduate from the University of Warwick. As Editor for HRreview, her particular interests in HR include issues concerning diversity, employment law and wellbeing in the workplace. Alongside this, she has written for student publications in both England and Canada. Monica has also presented her academic work concerning the relationship between legal systems, sexual harassment and racism at a university conference at the University of Western Ontario, Canada.