Survey Shows HR Professionals Still Seeking Strategic Role; Most Began in Different Field

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By Martin Berman-Gorvine  

May 30 — The goal of many HR professionals of gaining “a seat at the table” with executive decision-makers continues to be a major challenge, a new survey indicates, possibly due to the fact that quite a high proportion of those in HR apparently never set out to make a career in the field.

According to a report from New Providence, N.J.-based XPertHR released May 22, the top two factors most often cited as having held HR professionals “back in their careers are their employer's failure to view HR as important (40 percent), [and] the lack of a clear HR strategy in their organization (31.6 percent).” XPertHR, which provides online legal compliance advice to HR professionals, conducted the online survey in February and March, receiving 231 “usable responses” from HR professionals at organizations of various sizes throughout the U.S.

“It appears there has been headway over the last decade” in HR getting that seat at the decision-makers' table, Peggy Carter-Ward, head of content at XpertHR, said in a May 30 interview with Bloomberg BNA, “but there is room for improvement. Some companies are embracing it, but others are not. It has to do with company culture.”

“For HR, the key is to understand business drivers, business objectives and be able to communicate how the people aspects of what they do affect the objectives and the metrics,” she said, adding that an HR professional who worked for a construction company made comments along these lines in the survey.

HR Wasn't Career Choice

Meantime, XpertHR noted that close to 85 percent of the surveyed HR professionals started their careers in a different field.

“Prompted to give three main reasons for choosing HR as a career, more than one in three (36.4 percent) said they had been asked to take on HR responsibilities while they were in a previous role. One in four, meanwhile (25.5 percent), said they had found themselves in the profession ‘by chance,' ” XpertHR said in the report. On top of that, almost four in 10 of the respondents admitted they “do not have a professional HR qualification,” the report added.

Carter-Ward said the role of chance in so many HR professionals' choice of career isn't surprising based on her personal experience. “I don't think people go to college expecting to go into HR,” she said, “I don't think the profession has reached that level yet.”

Working With People

About one in three of the survey respondents “said they had chosen HR because they wanted to work with people,” according to the report. Carter-Ward noted, however, that HR's role is more about protecting the organization and helping it avoid risk.

Nevertheless, there is relatively high job satisfaction in the field, with 61 percent of survey respondents saying they “would, if they could start their career over, still choose HR as a career.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Martin Berman-Gorvine in Washington at mbermangorvine@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Simon Nadel at snadel@bna.com