Two new reports published today by the CIPD highlight the ways in HR, L&D and other people professionals have stepped up to the plate during the COVID-19 pandemic and now face a once in a generation opportunity to transform the world of work.

Together, the two reports provide a comprehensive insight into the challenges and opportunities facing a profession that’s committed to building a world of work that’s fairer, safer, more people-centric and more purpose-driven.

The People Profession Report, an annual snapshot of the people profession published in association with Workday, reveals the impact of the pandemic on the profession – how it’s changed people professionals’ roles and the demands placed on them, how they’ve responded and stepped up, and how they’ve increased their standing in their organisations. It found that 50% of respondents have upskilled themselves to deal with the challenges posed by the pandemic and 43% agreed that the standing of HR and people professionals in their organisations has increased.

Another report, Responsible business through crisis: senior leaders on building new cultures of trust’ explores in more depth what private, public and third sector organisations across the UK have been grappling with throughout the pandemic. Through the candid reflections of more than 60 CEOs and HR directors, it offers a unique insight into the ways in which leaders can balance business demands with the need to build new cultures of trust, to shape a new world of work.

The leaders interviewed for the report highlighted that the post-COVID world of work is about so much more than hybrid working; the crisis has accelerated the responsible business agenda and provided a huge opportunity for leaders and the people profession to transform the world of work. But this drive towards responsible and sustainable business demands a new breed of leaders and managers that can build new cultures of trust.

The report identifies seven key leadership traits that are crucial to building cultures of trust and workplaces that are fairer, more people-centric and purpose-driven:

  1. Being comfortable with uncertainty: Leading in unfamiliar territory is a skill. Leaders need to be comfortable with experimentation and avoid rushing to fixed solutions.

  2. Balance: Leaders need to be ambidextrous in their thinking, balancing creative thinking and innovation about a sustainable future alongside tackling everyday problems.

  3. Directive empathy’: As the CEO of Nationwide put it, ‘COVID-19 was a distinctly human crisis and therefore you […] had to be both highly empathetic and directive.’

  4. Facilitator of two-way communication: Leaders need to listen as much as they dispense pithy soundbites.

  5. Humility: We cannot know all the answers. ‘Being humble is about being self-aware and really valuing and prioritising learning’ (Jane Cathrall, Executive Director, People and Culture, Bank of England).

  6. Ability to empower and experiment: Failure is an inevitable companion to innovation and exploration. Recognise and trust your new superstars to come up with solutions for you.

  7. Reflection: Reflect on the learning from the last 18 months: what made you and your senior team both responsible and resilient? What will it take for you and your senior team to withstand the next crisis?

The people profession clearly plays an important role in helping leaders develop these traits, and the report also identified the ways in which the people profession is uniquely placed to help organisations build cultures of trust. Now is the time for HR, L&D and other people professionals to apply everything they know about:

  • coaching and listening
  • learning and development
  • reward and recognition
  • and the employee value proposition.

Scarlett Brown, policy consultant for the CIPD and co-author of the report, comments: ‘As the world starts the long road to recovery and a new future of work, people professionals must build on their organisational status to drive and influence change. The challenge and opportunity should not be underestimated. The leaders we spoke to for this research all demonstrated a huge desire to do things differently, but the crisis is far from over and they also expressed a deep concern for the risk of burnout and exhaustion.

‘We hope this report both inspires you to drive forward the responsible business agenda in your organisations and reassures you that you are not facing the challenges of the months and years to come alone. We’re extremely grateful to all the leaders who gave up their time to share their insights and experiences with us for this report and we know they also welcomed the opportunity to discuss the challenges they’ve faced with leaders from other organisations’.

Over the next six months the CIPD will be exploring key findings of the People Profession Report in more detail – what they mean for people professionals, what action they can take, what resources they can access and what might be on the horizon so they can anticipate and drive change. We’ll also be continuing to bring senior HR leaders together to learn from one another and navigate the new world of work and responsible business – get involved by emailing


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At the CIPD, we champion better work and working lives. We help organisations to thrive by focusing on their people, supporting economies and society for the future. We lead debate as the voice for everyone wanting a better world of work.