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The Covid-19 crisis revealed in sharp detail the importance of people in our organisations. And, as the workplace evolves, so does the role of Human Resources. Leena Nair, Chief Human Resources Officer at Unilever, puts it this way, “Human capital is as important as financial capital.” Without it, nothing happens.

HR was once seen as the department to hire and fire people, keep track of employee records and benefits, and handle the odd personnel issues. Responsibilities grew to include attracting and retaining talent, developing leaders, managing performance, and nurturing employee engagement and workplace culture. During the pandemic, HR’s role expanded further as it communicated changes, upheld health and safety protocols, and helped employees who got sick or needed extra leave to care for family. HR leaders also navigated layoffs and furloughs, and now they shepherd the return to offices.

But the scope and complexity of HR today is only a fraction of what the future holds. As HR teams continue to design many of the experiences that employees need to thrive, they will carry the torch to build inclusion, prevent burnout, keep people connected, and inspire great work. They’ll also lead the way for employers to become more flexible and agile to meet new needs.

Organisations that don’t keep pace with HR’s evolving role—by providing appropriate support and influence—ignore HR’s potential at their own peril. Conversely, those who champion HR take large steps toward ensuring business success. A few such steps to consider:

1. Deliberately define HR’s role in your culture

Is HR about policies and compliance? Or is it the architect of your workplace culture? If HR is a strategic asset, be sure to give it the resources it needs to develop skills and transition from tasks to consulting.

2. Treat culture initiatives as company initiatives, not HR projects

When initiatives like inclusion, wellbeing, and recognition are seen as company initiatives, leaders and employees are more likely to adopt, use, and value them.

3. Utilise data and insights to make better decisions

Invest in technology to collect employee feedback, see who’s getting recognised and promoted, and understand how employees are performing. This technology helps HR teams identify people with high potential, intervene when employees struggle, and develop more targeted strategies to improve the employee experience.

4. Empower HR leaders to make changes

Give them a seat at the most important tables and the authority to make decisions. Let them run with their ideas. For example, if you want to build an inclusive workplace, do more than preach it. Allow HR to set policies, require training, and hold leaders accountable for building inclusive environments.

Human Resources now plays an even more pivotal role in the employee experience, workplace culture, and business prosperity. If there’s ever been a year to celebrate and elevate these professionals, this is it.

We wish you every success as you rethink the guiding principles of your current workplace culture and find the answers and inspiration to create a smarter, stronger one.


“Whatever you decide, one thing is certain: it’s a fascinating time to be an HR leader. And it’s never been clearer that we are truly creating the future of work as we go.”


The O.C. Tanner Institute uses multiple research methods to support the Global Culture Report, including interviews, focus groups, cross-sectional surveys, and a longitudinal survey.

Qualitative findings came from 16 focus groups and 85 interviews among employees and leaders of larger organisations. The groups and interviews were held throughout 2020 and 2021, each representing various types of employers, including both private and public entities.

Quantitative findings came from online survey interviews administered to employees across Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Philippines, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The total sample size was 38,177 workers at companies with 500+ employees. The O.C. Tanner Institute collected and analysed all survey data. This sample is sufficient to generate meaningful conclusions about the cultures of organisations in the included countries. However, because the study does not include population data, results are subject to statistical errors customarily associated with sample-based information.

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from the O.C. Tanner Institute.

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