The world of work is constantly evolving. Fast-paced changes in technology and workforce expectations are revolutionising the way we work. The HR function has a critical role to play in preparing its people for the future and providing insights on how to manage the digital transformation of organisations.

For these reasons, this year’s fifth edition of the Malta HR Pulse survey focused on the HR transformation and the re-shaping of the role of the HR function in the future world of work.

The results of the survey indicate that the majority of organisations are transforming their HR function so as to keep up with changes in the world of work. Having said this, respondents continue to highlight poor implementation of HR practices by management (54 per cent), insufficient resources within the HR department (53 per cent) and lack of ability to capture and analyse data within HR (43 per cent) as the top three barriers negatively impacting the performance of the HR function.

When asked about the top HR priorities in the next 12 months, retention of talent (51 per cent), managing employee engagement (45 per cent) and enhancing people experience (40 per cent) were the most popular responses. Although these HR issues appear to be recurring, we do see new issues that the HR function needs to prepare for.

In fact, the latest issues impacting the HR function are widespread varying from the synergies between humans and machines to the quest for purpose and flexibility. 

The variety of these issues has resulted in the need for HR functions to adopt new roles. This year’s survey in fact gained insight into these varying roles of the HR function, referred to as talent cultivator, digital accelerator, business promoter and flexible navigator, to unravel the future of HR. 

Digital accelerator

While 90 per cent of global C-suite executives agree that their organisation pays attention to people’s needs when introducing new technology, only about 53 per cent of staff agree. This means HR functions must collaborate with IT to accelerate for the digital age hence taking on the role of digital accelerator. HR should be at the forefront of moves towards greater automation and AI, rather than simply responding to changes in technology. Organisations should: develop and demonstrate HR’s awareness and understanding of technology and bring HR and business leaders together on the issues; ensure HR is trained to use data analytics to predict and monitor skills gaps in the workforce; and make sure HR has a strong influence on the process of mapping automatable tasks.

Upon examining results from this year’s survey, it is evident that HR’s role of digital accelerator still requires further efforts locally. The survey delves into the level of the HR function’s involvement in digital transformation activities related to people and its use of technology within the function.

Flexible navigator

Flexible navigator refers to HR’s role of responding to business-led transformation. The HR function plays a critical role in any transformation undertaken by the organisation to support particularly on change management. HR must be involved throughout the whole change process, including identifying the need for change, identifying the impact on people, developing people, and communicating the changes to be implemented, the implementation and benefits realisation.

Part of this role is considering future scenarios that could impact key areas of the organisation.

This year’s survey results outline the most frequent future scenarios developed by the HR function and delve into strategies that have been redesigned by the HR function in recent years. Additionally, results also shed light on whether HR’s involvement has remained focussed on typical HR functions or whether the function has taken on more of a strategic role.

Talent cultivator

Seeing the HR function as a catalyst for talent encapsulates the function’s role of understanding and developing talent which is as critical as ever given the skills shifts playing out across different industries. As automation replaces workers in conducting certain tasks, it also creates new opportunities for the current workforce which require new sets of competencies. With 73 per cent of organisations at a global level stating that identifying and building future skills created by the impact of technology is important, it is vital that HR leaders understand and develop talent through reskilling and upskilling initiatives for their workforce.

When analysing the situation locally, many are aware of the importance of upskilling and reskilling their workforce. However, more efforts are still required to convert this awareness into a current, fully-fledged strategy and implementation. Survey results also highlight a shift in the number of hours of training offered to employees as well as provide evidence that upskilling goes beyond enhancing digital skills.

Business promoter

Today’s world of work is bound to bring about a sense of urgency and anxiety in many, given the significance and pace of these changes. In fact, managing stress and preventing burnout are amongst the top five global people challenges in PwC’s recent global study. This emphasises another role of HR, that of promoting well-being and enhancing people experience to maximise business value. This role is referred to as business promoter.

Local results clearly show that a high percentage of local organisations are investing in well-being initiatives, with work environment and social well-being initiatives being more popular than physical activity and mental health awareness initiatives. The survey delves into the most popular well-being initiatives and others that have little uptake amongst local organisations.

About the survey

The Malta HR Pulse Survey is a joint annual exercise carried out by PwC Malta and the Foundation for Human Resources Development (FHRD). The initiative aims to gather the thoughts and views of Malta’s HR leaders and top executives on the key HR challenges that organisations are facing, as well as priorities for people management in the year ahead. 

Detailed results of the survey will be presented during this year’s FHRD conference, HR Transformation – Unravelling the Future, being held on Wednesday, October 23.