Nearly two thirds (61%) of HR and people professionals strengthened their skills - through either upskilling or reskilling - as a result of their organisation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the latest People Profession survey report from the CIPD and Workday finds. 

The annual benchmarking report explores the perspectives and experiences of over 1,500 people professionals in the UK. It reveals valuable insights into how people professionals have responded to the pandemic, with many playing a vital role at the heart of their organisational response.

When surveyed about their skills last year, before the onset of the pandemic, 83% of people professionals in the UK and Ireland said they felt they had the right skills to deal with any challenges. The number who have since upskilled (50%) or reskilled (11%) demonstrates how they have stepped up to respond to the changing world of work over the last year.

People professionals have helped organisations to adapt to the constantly changing landscape of the world of work, such as ensuring COVID-secure working environments, administering the furlough scheme, and implementing widespread homeworking followed by the introduction of hybrid working. Despite the external challenges and demands, the last year has largely been positive for the majority of people professionals, with 43% agreeing that the standing of HR/people professionals has increased in their organisation due to the pandemic.

Additionally, those reporting that their work is meaningful across several dimensions has risen compared to 2020: 

  • 86% of respondents say the profession offers a meaningful career (up from 80% of people professionals surveyed last year)
  • 76% of respondents gain personal meaning from their work (up from 71%)
  • 63% say their work makes them happy (up from 59%)

Peter Cheese, chief executive of the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, comments:

2020 was an exceptional year for our profession. The difficult external circumstances put great demand on all of us, and people professionals have been at the forefront of the organisational response, supporting people, implementing rapid changes, and adapting and learning.  It’s great to see so many colleagues recognising the need to strengthen their skills and ensure they have the right expertise to guide and make an impact in their organisations in an ever-changing world of work.

“It’s also encouraging to see the standing of HR and people professionals has increased in this challenging time. We've always been aware of the vital role our profession plays, but the pandemic has accelerated a focus to putting people much more front and centre in the business agenda, and for our profession to step forward and demonstrate their skills and abilities. Now is the time to see people professionals build on the fantastic work they’ve done over the last year and continue driving change in their organisations as we continue to navigate the pandemic and the changing future of work and working practices.”

Michael Douroux, global vice president, Northern Europe and South Africa at Workday said:

“Those in the people profession have really risen to the moment in the last year, helping businesses and employees alike to overcome an incredibly challenging period.

“Amidst huge uncertainty and a fast-changing environment, leaders have helped people stay informed, engaged and supported. As we all strive to recover and make the world of work better, applying what we’ve learned over the last year, it’s clear that a data-driven agile culture is vital - leading to better-informed decisions and fewer surprises along the way.”

The report also highlights areas which the profession has found challenging. The increase of working from home is cited as making key aspects of their role more challenging, such as supporting employees’ mental health and wellbeing (55%), building organisational culture and values (48%), and managing performance (46%). Hybrid and flexible working is likely to remain, so professionals will need to find ways to overcome these challenges by testing, learning and adapting. The CIPD has a range of resources available on its website to help people professionals with hybrid working.

The People Profession 2021 survey report is available here.

The CIPD’s latest ‘Responsible business through crisis: senior leaders on building new cultures of trust’ report offers further insights into the challenges and opportunities facing the people profession. Featuring the candid reflections of more than 60 CEOs and HR directors, the report explores what it will take to build a fairer, more people-centric world of work.

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