HR Professionals Have Influence at Top Levels of Company

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By Genevieve Douglas

Oct. 27 — Human resources professionals might not always be satisfied with their level of influence over business decisions, but new research reveals that HR often has the ear of high-level company executives.

Half of top HR officials—such as a vice president or director of human resources—report directly to the company’s chief executive, according to Bloomberg BNA’s “HR Department Benchmarks and Analysis 2016-2017” report. At 20 percent of organizations, the head of HR answers to the chief operating officer or a senior vice president, the survey found.

Furthermore, seven in 10 surveyed HR professionals characterized their departments as fully (30 percent) or substantially (40 percent) involved in key business decisions, the report said.

That perceived influence was most commonly reported by top HR personnel, while rank and file HR professionals were less sure their department had a seat at the table. “This indicates that HR likely does have a good avenue for influence, but that HR personnel who are not at the top of their organization may just not be aware of it,” Molly Huie, manager of survey reports for Bloomberg BNA, said Oct. 27. “Increased communication within the HR department could help in this area.”

The report, released Oct. 26, is based on a survey of over 550 HR professionals representing a broad cross-section of U.S. employers.

Changes to Performance Management?

This year’s benchmarking report for the first time asked survey participants about their performance management programs. The report found that almost eight in 10 companies (77 percent) have formal performance management programs, and three-quarters (76 percent) of those say they have updated their program in the past three years.

“Perhaps not surprisingly, performance management programs that had recently been updated were rated more positively than older programs on characteristics like being an effective use of time, being clearly communicated throughout the organization and encouraging employee engagement,” Huie said.

However, she said, nearly half of the respondents who said they had already updated their program within the last three years also indicated they planned to update again this year. “This could indicate a culture of supporting change and being on top of trends, or the corollary for programs that haven’t been updated—organizations could simply be happy with their program as it is, or they may not have the time or resources to support that kind of change,” Huie said.

Record HR Staffing High

The median ratio of HR staff to total employee headcount climbed to an all-time high of 1.4 full-time equivalent HR employees for every 100 workers in 2016, surpassing the previous record high of 1.3 HR staff members per 100 workers in both 2014 and 2013, the report said.

Managers, professionals and technical employees make up the “lion’s share” of HR staffs, constituting an average of 77 percent.

Roughly three-fifths of current HR department staffs (62 percent) include at least one specialist—an executive, professional or technical HR employee devoted to just one or two functional areas, the report said. The most common areas of specialization—benefits, employment and recruiting, training and development, and compensation—reflect HR’s core duties and responsibilities, it said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Genevieve Douglas in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tony Harris at

For More Information

The HR benchmarking report is available for purchase at

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