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Home » Future of work » HR leaders worry about burnout but still love what they do, report finds

Jessica Fuhl

Head of HR Research and Thought Leadership, Sage

HR leaders warn that they are increasingly burnt out and considering leaving the profession amid rapid change within the industry, according to a no-holds-barred report into the sector.

More than half of senior HR and People practitioners say they still ‘love their job’ — but more are burnt out, findings of a new report show. Other concerns centre around the dramatic pace of change in the last years; the continued frustrations at the focus on paperwork and process rather than people; and the need to embrace technology to support workload and efficiency. 

HR challenges 

The report on the HR sector has been produced by UK tech company Sage and highlights the current position and mood within the industry. It also identifies steps to prepare it for the future. Report author Jess Fuhl, who is Head of HR Research and Thought Leadership at Sage, says: “Like many business leaders over the last few years, HR leaders have been through and had to respond quickly to a lot: a shift to remote working, the Covid-19 pandemic and managing furlough — and legislation changes in the UK. They’re now facing how to manage workforces through economic uncertainty and provide support for employees at a time of managing fixed costs tightly. The challenges and changes continue within HR.” 

“We wanted to understand how HR is responding to those challenges, what support HR leaders are getting and need, as well as the role technology could play.” 

Report findings 

From the poll of more than 1,000 HR leaders and C-suite executives, ‘The Changing Face of HR’ report found that 57% of HR leaders love their job, 62% are considering leaving, 81% feel burnt out and 73% remain worried that the focus is still more on processes than people. 

Many want to find ways of spending less time on admin and paperwork by implementing more automation — freeing up time to concentrate on people, strategy and productivity. In terms of career advancement and stepping up from a CPO (chief people officer) to CEO, 91% believe they have the skills to move into the senior role, but only 13% identified financial performance as a priority, says Fuhl. 

HR teams are using automation, but not to the extent they need to.

Stress and burnout 

Another discussion was about moving away from the outdated term ‘human resources’ — which continues to suggest ‘admin function’ — to being known as ‘People Function’ or ‘People and Culture.’ While 91% of HR leaders and 95% of C-suite are excited about the future of HR, 66% retain worries. “There are some positives,” continues Fuhl, “But it is an unprecedented time in HR. The extent of how stressed and burnt out HR leaders are, was a worrying finding.” 

Increased automation 

Technology can improve HR efficiency, but it has not gone unnoticed that the marketing and finance sectors are ahead in transitioning to digital and analytical-focused approaches. 

Fuhl says: “HR teams are using automation, but not to the extent they need to. Automating processes — whether in recruitment or analytics — frees up time to concentrate on more strategic matters.” Currently, only 54% of departments use automation, and many HR leaders believe they don’t have the right technology or skills in their teams. 

Key needs 

The shift to automation is paramount for HR teams wanting to spend less time on processes and paperwork — and more on meaningful people strategies. Meanwhile, actionable analytics can deliver insights to allow HR leaders immediate access to data such as headcount, activity levels, recruitment and turnover rates. 

The report from Sage — which provides finance, accounting, HR, payroll services and advice to UK businesses — identifies key needs to help HR better prepare for the future. This includes increased upskilling; more technological know-how; more investment in HR specialisms such as Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI); increased wellbeing initiatives to prevent burnout; and better peer-to-peer networks. The top priorities for HR in the future are talent management, DEI and employee health and wellbeing. 

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