Hope. Fear. Optimism. Exhaustion. Anxiety. Numbness. Empowerment.
These are just some of the feelings that HR execs are experiencing after helping companies navigate the past 18+ months. Their days fluctuate between a range of emotional states often driven by external circumstances beyond their control.
The duality of this moment is profound. On one hand, the field has been elevated in a significant way; it’s now a department of critical strategic importance. We have this once-in-a-generation opportunity to redesign the nature of work itself in these new hybrid and flexible models. The market for HR roles has never been hotter.
On the other hand, burnout in HR, the sustained toll of carrying the emotional burdens of their employees (and their own), the Great Resignation, and the whiplash of return-to-workplace plans are taking a toll on many in the field.
The past 20 months have seen the Chief People Officer become the Chief Pandemic Officers as HR leaders took on a range of new responsibilities like vaccination mandates and advancing equity and social justice initiatives.
The function has become the department of +1 as more and more tasks are assigned to HR teams, often without the necessary budget increases to properly allocate resources.
According to a recent PwC CHRO and human capital 2021 survey, 71% of respondents viewed their lack of budget investment as a moderate to major challenge. As HR leaders continue being asked to do more with less, many are stepping away from roles where they feel undervalued and under-supported.
Leading an HR team during this time period has become “exponentially more difficult,” says former Stitch Fix Chief People Officer Jevan Soo Lenox. Lenox believes big changes are essential, noting the current environment demands a “pretty massive reset.” But getting that reset is rarely easy: “How can you hopefully have the trust with your CEO to have that really honest conversation? And then, of course, at the end of the day, to have them actually advocate for your team, because that’s the only way to really get the boundaries that you need.”
Why You’re Struggling to Hire HR and Recruiting Roles Right Now
The market for HR and recruiting practitioners has never been hotter. According to a recent poll by Indeed, HR job postings have seen an 87% spike since February of last year, a rate outpacing all jobs across roles by 43%. The demand has never been higher, and there are four reasons for that:
- Legacy HR teams were exposed during the pandemic. Traditional HR teams that are more oriented around administrative and transactional tasks struggled to adapt to the volatility of the past 18 months. Their inability to adapt to all of the cataclysmic changes of 2020 and beyond (pandemic, hybrid/remote, social justice, mental health, the great resignation) made it clear that new leadership and capabilities were needed.
- The market is flush with over $268B in venture capital investments in 2021 alone. As those companies scale, many are prioritizing (and investing in) progressive People teams and operations necessary to navigate the current and post-COVID talent market.
- Companies are investing in HR and people operations much earlier than they did in past years. The growth trajectory of startups over the past decade often centered on recruiting, scaling as fast as possible with little investment in building scalable HR operating systems. Eventually, those rudimentary systems broke and an experienced HR leader would be brought in to begin a long and disruptive process of rebuilding everything from the ground up. Investors and experienced executive teams have learned from those mistakes and are now hiring a Head of People much earlier to build HR systems and teams that scale.
- The Great Resignation. A Microsoft study earlier this year found that 41% of the global workforce will consider leaving their current employer within the next year. Perhaps more surprising, a recent McKinsey report found that 36% of respondents quit their jobs without having another job lined up for them.
The Great Resignation isn’t just something HR teams are having to address within their own organizations. They’re experiencing it firsthand. In a recent survey of 280 HR executives by my company, Amplify, an HR executive search and leadership accelerator, almost half of the respondents have changed jobs since April of 2020. Only 22% had no interest in leaving their current organization.
“It is pretty staggering to see … the number of people who are looking to move,” says Lil Cin LLC founder and former Policygenius Chief People Officer Cindy Gordon. “There are a lot of opportunities out there and a lot of different ways to shape what we can do and flex our muscles.”
In a market where HR jobs have never been more in demand, how can companies ensure they’re able to attract transformative people leaders who can guide their companies through these turbulent times? What should CEOs know about how HR executives feel at this moment?
What CEOs Can Do to Help
HR is, in the best of times, a complicated job. “Our roles can be confusing to executives and to employees alike; we need to be able to context switch and wear multiple hats at the same time,” says Lil Cin LLC founder and former Policy Genius Chief People Officer Cindy Gordon In particular, relations with the CEO can be incredibly complex: “We might be the confidant or coach to the CEO, but we also report to the CEO, and we were held accountable for business outcomes.”
CEOs tend to expect a tremendous amount from HR. Lenox finds CEOs invariably want their companies “to be the best place to work” and offer “an amazing culture.” But when it comes to making these ambitions a reality they’d rather not get involved, leaving HR with a massive task. Lenox says that when CEOs refuse to help HR, the result is invariably HR falling short: “If you’re just looking for me to fill the void, no matter how great I show up, we’ve actually already lost the game because that is fundamentally part of the CEO’s responsibility.”
You can watch more of my conversation with current and former HR leaders from companies including Stitch Fix, Dashlane, Eventbrite, and Policy Genius here.