Author Profile Picture

Ian Burke


Read more about Ian Burke

How do the ‘HR elite’ spend their time?


Do you know what your HR leader does every day? Understanding how your colleagues work is fundamental to being a key cog in an efficient and effective HR team. Additionally, when you’re looking to secure your dream HR job, knowing how effective HR teams work together can be invaluable.

Knowing the professional priorities and patterns of the HR elite in particular – namely Vice Presidents (VPs), Directors, Heads of Department and Managers – will show you how senior staff invest their time and, therefore, the potential direction of your future HR policy.

totaljobs have undertaken a diverse, cross-sector study into the activities of the HR elite to find out what they really do with their time. So let’s take a look at their weekly schedule and see how their insight could help you pursue an exciting and rewarding HR career path.

How do the HR elite spend their time?

There is a huge variety of responsibilities across the different members of the HR elite. There are some tasks that emerge both as prioritised and peripheral, including meeting senior staff and business partners, which occupy a significant 21.8% amount of their time. Whereas people management demands just 2.6% of their time and is consistently low across all those surveyed.

But whilst certain HR tasks are predominant across the elite, there are clear and significant differences between the tasks involved in each level of leadership. Across every role, an average 15.3% of the week is spent on employee relations and engagement, however this breaks down into 20.1% for Heads of Department, and an average of between 12.2% and 12.5% for the rest of the elite. This suggests a very clear, industry-wide focus on Heads of Department to be at the centre of relations and engagement. Such concentrations demonstrate how responsibilities are divided up across the levels of management.

One of the most dramatic focuses of responsibility occurs within the process of recruitment. VPs spend around 15% of the average week on recruitment and executive search – more than Directors, Heads of Department and Managers put together.

At the same time, VPs and Heads of Department spend just 2.5% of their week involved in operations management. Could closing such disparities, with senior heads and executives taking a more hands-on approach to supporting and understanding day-to-day operations, offer benefit to HR teams and organisations as a whole?

Finding the right path

Discovering the best route into your dream HR job can be a difficult process. There’s no fixed route to get where you want, and expectations and responsibilities change from sector to sector and from company to company.  So the totaljobs team asked the HR elite what their advice for prospective HR professionals would be.

Many HR elite have radically changed directions in their careers, perhaps even returning to education or moving sideways where necessary to discover the right opportunities. Kate Lefever, HR Director for commercial property developers Goodman UK, believes combining broad business experience with education is key.  “Gain the CIPD qualification as early as you can in your career,” she says. Concentrating on focusing and acquiring a good general business understanding will “put you in a strong position for the future”.

But an varied employment history shouldn’t stop you from moving forward in the HR industry either. Carol Ann Giffin, Assistant Director of HR at the University of Chester believes in the benefits of her diverse experience in her HR career. “By the age of 25, I had worked in a sandwich bar, handed out flyers in stations, dressed up as Santa’s Helper for 3 months, lifeguarded in the US and was a retail manager in Moscow,” she remembers. “I know now that every job I have ever had has informed and positively influenced my career.”

Moving on up

Developing a set of guiding principles can be hugely useful for targeting your career progression. Whilst these shouldn’t become inflexible rules, there is still a clear benefit in having personal and professional values for the workplace.

“Firstly, be yourself; be professional but in a way that is authentic to you,” advises Tess Smillie, HR VP at Samsung UK. “Be brave, take calculated risks. Have impact; don’t ask if you’re doing a good job, ask if you are making a difference.” Her final suggestion attests to the importance of self-awareness in your work: “Know yourself…The more you know, the more you can own where you are going rather than wishing for luck.”

Joining the HR elite can only come through understanding the lessons of experience, as well as learning to question both the work environment and your own ambition. Nicolas Veto, VP of HR for L’Occitane en Provence believes you should never choose a HR job just “because it is a stepping stone on a well-planned career path”, but rather to “choose a job where you’ll have fun and enjoy yourself. You’ll be much better at doing what you love doing, than at what you think people expect you to do”.

What are your top tips for plotting the ideal HR career path? Let us know in the comments below.

Author Profile Picture
Ian Burke


Read more from Ian Burke

Get the latest from HRZone.

Subscribe to expert insights on how to create a better workplace for both your business and its people.


Thank you.