HR News & Trends

Weekly Wrap: How Does HR Spend Its Time? The Answer Won’t Surprise You

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How does HR spend its time? Would you be surprised if I told you that it hasn’t changed much in the past 15 years?

That’s one of the findings from the latest survey conducted by Ed Lawler and John Boudreau of the Center for Effective Organizations at the University of Southern California.

This latest survey by Lawler and Boudreau, “queried HR executives from the U.S., Australia, Canada, Europe, the U.K., and China about a host of issues having to do with the current state of the HR profession and function,” according to a news release from the Center for Effective Organizations. “Since 1995, CEO has surveyed a sample of HR executives from large corporations every three years. The current survey is the first to include responses from the international arena.”

Little change in day to day activities

As the news release puts it:

Lawler and Boudreau believe that where HR spends it time sheds light on how HR is perceived, how its focus is changing, and what its future might hold.

Many are pondering the vision of a future HR. We’ve seen articles and books about HR’s continuing desire to be seen as a strategic partner in the organization. Certainly everyone in business is becoming more and more aware that human capital is a critical component to the success of any organization. Is HR building upon that fact? …

The authors argue that if HR is changing, survey results would show a shift in what HR does day to day. In fact, over the 15-year-period that this survey has been conducted, there has been very little change in how HR leaders describe how their function spends its time.”

How HR’s time breaks down

Now the real details about this topic won’t be available until May when the book, Effective Human Resource Management: A Global Analysis, by Edward E. Lawler III and John W. Boudreau (Stanford University Press), is available, but Lawler and Boudreau found that how HR professionals consistently spend their time as follows:

  • 25 percent on strategic business partnership activities;
  • 50 percent on providing/developing HR services/programs; and,
  • 25 percent on  recordkeeping and auditing.

Not a ringing endorsement for that seat at the table, is it? And as the press release about the Lawler and Boudreu work rightly notes:

These figures have remained consistent over time. However, HR executives tend to believe that their HR function has changed both its focus and where it spends time – moving away from administration and towards strategy. The survey findings suggest that this may be an inaccurate perception.

The CEO survey clearly shows that when HR spends more time on recordkeeping, compliance and administration, there is a negative association with HR’s strategic role, HR functional effectiveness, and organizational effectiveness. And if HR spends more time on strategic partnership, the higher the outcomes for those elements. Where time is spent does matter!”

Are CEOs ready to hire?

I’ll leave it to all of you to discern what all of this really means for HR, but my guess is that you need to get the book later this spring to really dig into it properly. The early information, however, IS pretty tantalizing — especially if you are one of those many people who wonder where HR is really headed. My guess is that this latest work and insight from Lawler and Boudreau will give us some of the answers.

Of course, there’s more than how HR spends its time in the news this week. Here are some HR and workplace-related items you may have missed. This is TLNT’s weekly round-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of talent management. I do it so you don’t have to.

  • CEOs say they plan to do more hiring. Maybe the economic recovery IS finally underway. According to an Associated Press story in the Chicago Sun-Times, “A growing number of chief executives at large U.S. companies say they are more optimistic about the economy and plan to step up hiring. The brighter view from the boardroom comes after the best three months of job growth in two years. The Business Roundtable said Wednesday that a survey of its CEO members found that 42 percent expect to hire over the next six months. That’s up from 35 percent three months ago.”
  • Veterans are pushing to get hired. There’s no doubt that returning military veterans have been struggling to re-enter the workforce, but there is also no doubt about how hard they are pushing to do so. A story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch gets into this issue, saying, “For discharged military personnel, the outside world represents “a different dynamic,” said William Wheeler, president of the Veteran Corps of America, a government contractor headquartered in O’Fallon, Ill. … You’ve been out there with the power of life and death in your hands,” said Wheeler. “And it’s a paradox because you’ve had this immense life experience in a short period of time but you may not have the skills that translate into working as the manager of a burger joint.”
  • Pre-hiring drug tests? Just take a swab. Pre-employment drug tests have become all-too-common in today’s working world. And for 400 would-be employees at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino in Tampa, Florida, it’s as easy as a little swab of the mouth, according to the Tampa Bay Times.  ”The casino is among a growing number of companies using a new oral swab test to detect current or recent drug use in job applicants. The test is popular largely because it’s cheap, simple and quick. Job applicants put a special foam swab in their mouth that resembles a giant Q-tip, wait five minutes for saliva to soak in, then technicians plug the swab into a testing strip that detects drugs including marijuana and methamphetamines. With speed like this, a job applicant can interview at the Seminole job fair April 16, take the drug test, and walk out with a job offer if their background check and references pass muster.”
John Hollon is Vice President for Editorial of TLNT.com, and the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices. Contact him at john@tlnt.com, and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/johnhollon.
  • Jacque Vilet

    Self-reporting can sometimes distort the facts.   Would like to see 2 things:
    1) What do the HR execs include in the 25% strategic activities they report?
    2) CEO’s view of percentage of time spent between strategic and tactical activities

    Survey the same companies — just ask HR execs and CEO to report separately and then include in one report.   Show contrast.

    I am becoming more and more convinced that we need a tradition HR and then another group separate from HR (so they don’t get sucked into doing traditional tasks) that focus strictlly on strategic tasks.   It is difficult for HR to do this because all the traditional stuff has to be done.