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Study: HR Professionals Focus on Strategy, Productivity, and Technology Amid New Challenges

August 03, 2020

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Annual Paychex Pulse of HR Survey reveals nearly nine in 10 HR professionals have a voice in company strategy

The 2020 Paychex Pulse of HR Survey, released today, found that 88 percent of HR leaders feel they are a strategic partner within their organization, particularly as they play a vital role in navigating new regulatory challenges compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. The fourth annual report from Paychex, Inc., a leading provider of HR, payroll, benefits, and insurance solutions, also shows that 80 percent of HR professionals  believe workplace technology helps support their role as a strategic contributor to the business and another 79 percent say technology enables their workforce to be more efficient and productive.

“Accelerated by new technology and a rapidly changing regulatory landscape, the job descriptions of HR professionals are evolving to encompass high-level decision-making and managing complex tasks that contribute to overall business strategy and success,” said Alison Stevens, Paychex director of HR services. “The COVID-19 pandemic has put this shifting role into sharper focus as HR leaders have quickly risen to the challenge, adapting to meet the needs of their workforce, navigating new and changing legislation, and working closely with executives to plan for the future.”

When asked to define their role within their organizations, most HR leaders describe themselves as a “strategic partner,” which rose from the fourth-most common self-described role in 2019 to first in 2020.

Adoption of workplace technology pays off for HR departments

Sixty-nine percent of HR professionals report that their budgets will increase this year and technology tops the list (50 percent) of planned use for these additional funds. A downward trend in manual task approaches to HR also indicates that more HR professionals are integrating technology into their strategies. Compared with 2019, this year manual completion of rekeying of data is down 60 percent and time spent manually merging data to inform decision-making is down more than 40 percent.

“A big HR contribution this year was using more technology and fewer human resources,” said one respondent, a Colorado-based HR professional at a 100-person construction company. In fact, seventy-nine percent of HR leaders say that providing self-service options to employees via an HR application or portal is an important factor in meeting the needs of their workforce and freeing up time that would otherwise be spent on administrative tasks such as time-off requests and updates to personal information.

However, despite the widespread adoption of technology, some HR tasks are still handled manually. In fact, HR leaders report spending a full four weeks per year or more on manual tasks, including:

  • Keeping up with the latest federal, state, and local regulations: 23%
  • Administrative tasks, such as checking pay stubs, submitting direct deposit, updating employee addresses, etc.: 20%
  • Managing employee performance: 19%

Leveraging the power of analytics from an HR technology solution has become even more prevalent in 2020. According to the survey, 97 percent of HR professionals rely on analytics, up from 90 percent in 2017, the first year that Paychex fielded the Pulse of HR Survey. Of those using analytics, 88 percent agree data helps them make more informed business decisions and 84 percent say they’re benchmarking their data against other like organizations.

Regulatory challenges compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic

In 2019, with a historically tight job market, HR leaders’ top challenge was attracting talent. This year, priorities have shifted, elevating regulatory compliance to the top of the list of HR issues. Thirty-six percent of HR professionals said keeping track of regulations was their biggest challenge in 2020. At the time the Paychex survey was fielded (April 22 – June 10, 2020), 79 percent of respondents agreed that managing their company’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has made 2020 one of the most difficult times in their HR careers. When asked to select the most significant challenges they are facing as a result of COVID-19, the following rose to the top among the HR professionals surveyed:

  • Keeping employees motivated and engaged: 56%
  • Keeping employees informed: 56%
  • Managing employee stress: 51%
  • Managing the expense of employee pay and benefits: 41%
  • Providing technology to keep employees productive: 40%
  • Providing employee training: 39%

“HR professionals have been invaluable leaders in their organizations throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Amidst widespread confusion and fear at a personal and professional level, they have called on skills that they may never have expected to utilize in a situation that has no playbook,” said Stevens. “Through strategic leadership, consistent employee communication, regulatory compliance, benefits administration and more, HR leaders have and will continue to play a critical role in helping their organizations address evolving business needs due to the pandemic.”

In addition to the impacts of technology and regulatory challenges of HR teams, the Paychex Pulse of HR Survey also revealed insights on HR’s role in meeting the needs of remote workers, fostering employee engagement, and addressing social issues in the workplace, such as sexual harassment and pay equity. The complete research report is available on Paychex WORX.

About the 2020 Paychex Pulse of HR Survey

The 2020 Paychex Pulse of HR Survey was conducted via an online survey April 22-June 10, 2020 among 575 HR decision-makers at U.S. companies with 50 to 500 employees. It is the fourth in an annual series of benchmark surveys investigating HR leaders’ challenges, priorities, and use of technology.

About Paychex
Paychex, Inc. (NASDAQ:PAYX) is a leading provider of integrated human capital management solutions for payroll, benefits, human resources, and insurance services. By combining its innovative software-as-a-service technology and mobility platform with dedicated, personal service, Paychex empowers small- and medium-sized business owners to focus on the growth and management of their business. Backed by more than 45 years of industry expertise, Paychex serves more than 670,000 payroll clients as of May 31, 2020 across more than 100 locations in the U.S. and Europe, and pays one out of every 12 American private sector employees. Learn more about Paychex by visiting and stay connected on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Emily DePerrior

Emily DePerrior

Emily DePerrior joined Paychex in October 2019 and serves as public relations program lead. In this role, she is responsible for advancing the company’s reputation as an HR outsourcing leader, providing PR support for the Paychex Insurance Agency, overseeing media monitoring, reporting and measurement initiatives, and supporting the overall goals of the public relations department. Emily is a graduate of University of Rochester where she studied English with a concentration in language, media and communications. Prior to joining Paychex, she worked at University of Rochester Medical Center and the global PR agency, Text100.

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