Australia’s latest ‘State of the Human Resource Profession’ report, led by Deakin University, offers a unique insight into the changing face of the profession, and how it is adapting to post-pandemic challenges.
In the past 50 years HR has moved from a male-dominated profession to a female dominated one. In 1976, women made up less than 10 per cent of the workforce, by 1997 they were close to half, and in 2022 the profession was 84 per cent female.
The ‘State of the Human Resource Profession’ report has previously been compiled in 1984, 1995 and 2006, building on similar studies conducted each decade since the 1940s, allowing us to see how the HR profession has evolved over time.
It helps give a snapshot of the industry now and what important capabilities it will need to grow moving forward.
The 2022 report was led by Deakin Business School’s Dr Justine Ferrer, in collaboration with academics from UniSA, Swinburne and RMIT, and was produced for the Australian Human Resources Institute. It’s based on survey data from 390 HR professionals working across Australia, taken between April and June 2022.
“In recent years, organisations have been confronted by a wide range of extreme circumstances, such as floods, bushfires, drought, increased temperature, the COVID-19 pandemic and cyber-hacking. Each has significant implications for HR policy and practice,” Dr Ferrer said.
Key findings – 2023 State of the Human Resource Profession report
1. There’s been a big turnover in HR positions. The 2022 survey results showed that people are staying in the industry for a long time, but not in the same roles or organisations, they seem to be changing jobs regularly. Almost half of those surveyed had been in their current position less than two years and Dr Ferrer said this was an unexpected anomaly.
“I would suspect that COVID contributed to this, and particularly the pressure that HR professionals were under during this time, as the breadth and depth of their role intensified. They became the source of understanding and communication for government regulations and restrictions, they managed the transition to working from home in large numbers, they became well-being managers as well as risk managers,” she said.
2. The profession is transitioning to more of an advisory or consulting role. Line managers are now expected to fulfill more of the traditional HR responsibilities. HR professionals increasingly take an advisory approach, working with managers to help them deal with issues themselves. Only a small fraction of those surveyed (13 per cent) said their team assumed full responsibility for HR management, with the rest reporting some, half, or much of the responsibility was devolved to line managers.
“The devolution to line management is not a new issue, however, the degree to which this is happening suggests a bigger shift to the functionality of HR within organisations. The line manager has a more intimate knowledge and understanding of the employees, while HR provides the support, and advice required to ensure processes are followed correctly,” Dr Ferrer said.
3. HR teams are growing. More than half of survey respondents reported their teams had grown over the past five years. Dr Ferrer said the pandemic had created a need for qualified HR staff.
“The nature of the role of HR has changed as a result of the pandemic, the role has become more complex, and now has greater breadth and depth. We don’t yet know whether this has gone, or will go, back to the status quo. But my belief is that the role has irrevocably changed, thus requiring a wider skilled workforce,” she said.
4. ‘People’ based team names now most popular. More than half of those surveyed were in ‘people’ named teams, with ‘People and Culture’ the most common variation. Only about a third of respondents work in a ‘Human Resources’ labelled function.
“The shift to the people function, suggests that people are the core of what needs to be done for the organisation, and this is in line with the shift in focus of HR to people related supports, such as employee wellbeing,” Dr Ferrer said.
5. Recruitment, retention and reducing turnover are top priorities. With the skills crisis, workers are harder to come by, and that is a significant problem for the sector to address. “In Australia, we have not returned to pre-pandemic numbers of people entering from overseas to work here. Which means sectors like hospitality, retail and tourism are suffering substantially from the lack of available workers,” Dr Ferrer said.
“Thanks to the pandemic we now know that many jobs can be done online, and in any place in the world. The global talent market has opened up, meaning we are now competing globally for talent. Organisations now need to review what they are offering to ensure that they are competitive in the labour market.”
6. Mental health and employee wellbeing are also of high concern. “This is critical now because organisations don’t want employees to leave. They need to show they are doing things actively as an organisation to ensure employees are retained,” Dr Ferrer said.
“It’s also critical to attract talent. In a post-pandemic environment, employees are demanding that the organisations they work for priorities their health and wellbeing.”