What does the People Profession look like in 2020?

The CIPD People Profession survey 2020, in association with Workday, is an annual snapshot of what’s happening right now across the people profession. From the perspective of practitioners themselves, the  survey gathers insight and data around the key behaviours and attitudes of people professionals, whilst also capturing the pressing issues that they face right now, including some of the challenges and key priority areas.

By building an annual benchmark for the profession, this data enables us to consider how the industry and its practices are being influenced alongside other workplace, societal and economic trends. The first half of 2020 has already seen some profound shifts that we’ll be dealing with for years to come. At the start of this year, Brexit was expected to be the dominate trend influencing businesses and consuming business leaders’ attention, yet little did we know that an unforeseen global pandemic was just around the corner.  

COVID-19 has been an unprecedented crisis that has led to drastic changes within government policy which will impact greatly on the economy and society for the foreseeable future. It’s also significantly impacted the way we all work, creating the biggest homeworking experiment of its kind, meaning businesses are heavily reliant on their digital technology and their ability to work remotely. The last few months, for many businesses, have involved big shifts in digital transformation and flexible working − perhaps in ways which we didn’t believe were possible in such a short timeframe. And whilst these times are challenging and demanding for businesses, leaders now rely upon the people profession to implement many of the necessary changes to working practices.  

This research was conducted online with YouGov between January and March 2020, with supplementary data from our COVID-19 employers survey to understand the immediate pressures faced by practitioners. By gathering opinions and insights from 1,368 in-house and 204 independent people professionals, the CIPD are able to take the pulse of the profession as it stands. This helps to increase our understanding of how we can support the profession to be future-fit and adaptive to the changing circumstances. It also enables the profession as a whole to reflect on some of the areas where people professionals add real value, contributing to the goals and outcomes of their business.

The People Profession 2020 report, launched on 27 May, details the in-depth findings and insight from this piece of research as well as practice reflections, so readers can consider the results in the context of their own business and teams.

The headline findings include:

  • A highly rewarding career. We found that the vast majority of both in-house and independent professionals report their career to be a meaningful one. Three-quarters also believe they add real value and impact through their practice.
  • People analytics and data skills are in high demand, but skills are lacking across the profession. Our findings recognise the many opportunities people analytics and data can bring to the people profession, with 89% of all organisations planning on using HR/people data and analytics. Practitioners should look to build their capability in this area given the undeniable demand and vast possibilities of data usage to inform better decision-making.
  • Economic change, digital transformation and organisational agility are the biggest drivers of change influencing the profession right now. Additionally, we found that the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated employee health and wellbeing as an immediate priority, with 68% of people professionals saying this is a key focus area.
  • Tensions between operational efficiency and strategic delivery. The shape of the profession is changing, and the challenge now is to recognise how the profession can add most value through both operational and strategic activity. We also found differences across strategic level and meaningfulness scores - those working at a higher strategic level have higher meaningful work scores compared with operational practitioners.
  • Linking people strategy and business outcomes more explicitly. There is still some way to go to address the disconnect between integrating people strategy with wider business outcomes. Senior leaders outside of the profession realise the importance of people strategy to achieve business goals and call for more business collaboration.

Read a summary of our findings as well as the full report for further details. 

Also see further reading and insights from the research:

  • Why we call it the people profession?
  • Data and the people profession: is the drive for people analytics at risk of stalling?
  • When the going gets tough, the tough gets evidence

Written by Rebecca Peters, Research Advisor at the CIPD. 

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