In recent years, HR departments have begun playing a larger role in delivering business value to their organizations. In order to help achieve overall organizational goals, many HR departments are actively taking on more strategic roles. According to a new report, the need to maintain administrative functions often stands in the way of this goal.

The survey, What’s Hindering HR Success in 2019?, conducted by and the HR Research Institute in partnership with Access, sought to investigate how well HR departments are accomplishing their goal of becoming more strategic. The results paint a picture of HR professionals who are eager to drive their organizations’ strategic goals, but are often hampered by administrative inefficiencies and burdensome processes.

Good News

Aligning strategic goals throughout the organization is key to successful outcomes. The good news: Most HR departments believe they are “well” or “very well” aligned with their organizations in this regard. Top organizational goals for 2019 are improving productivity/efficiency and boosting employee engagement. Within HR departments, top goals also include attracting and retaining high-performing employees.

Bad News

Although both HR professionals and their organizations are generally well aligned around the goal of increased efficiency, the bad news is that HR still has a long way to go to reach that objective. The majority of HR professionals rate their HR departments’ efficiency as average or below average, with 59% citing “too many inefficient manual processes” as a contributing factor.

This inefficiency slows HR departments down, making it difficult to shed the moniker of task master and, instead, engage as an organizational leader.

As a result, most HR professionals in the survey say they’re still widely seen as filling administrative rather than strategic roles within the organization. A whopping 76% say they play the role of administrator; just 34% say they are viewed as strategists.

Back-Office Burdens

Of course, administrative duties are a key component of HR’s responsibilities. But excessive time spent on back-office chores eats into HR professionals’ ability to do strategic work. Just how much time is lost to administrative burdens, such as dealing with paperwork and compliance issues? More than seven in 10 (71%) HR professionals surveyed report that almost half of their HR department’s time is spent on administrative duties. In about one-third (34%) of HR departments, the majority of the staff’s time is spent on these duties.

HR professionals are eager to provide value to their organizations. But when they are forced to spend most of their time on manual back-office tasks rather than on strategic work, it feeds the already widespread perception that HR isn’t a strategic part of the business.

Seeking Solutions

What would it take for HR departments to break past these efficiency barriers and reduce time lost to administrative tasks? Almost two-thirds (63%) of HR professionals surveyed say that a lack of automation stands in their way. Forty-five percent say a lack of technological integration across HR silos is the biggest roadblock to improving efficiency.

The most successful HR departments deploy automation as part of larger process improvements to eliminate outdated practices and enhance efficiency. HR departments that have achieved higher efficiency levels are seeing real payoffs, the survey found.

For instance, compared to less efficient HR departments, efficient ones are better aligned with organizational goals, and are more likely to be seen as business partners, culture keepers and strategists. Since they spend less time on manual and administrative processes, efficient HR departments have time to focus on more strategic goals, such as recruiting, training and retaining high-performing employees.


HR professionals currently straddle two worlds, striving to deliver business value to their organizations while still fulfilling their traditional administrative roles. By investing in automation, technology integrations and process improvements for their HR departments, organizations can help HR teams escape their onerous back-office burdens and enter their 21st-century role as strategists.

For an in-depth look at the results of our survey, download the full report.