Many HR professionals lack even the most basic workforce information they need to do their jobs, making a mockery of their efforts to be taken more seriously by senior management, a new report has found.
Research by HR and payroll software provider Snowdrop revealed an astonishing lack of visibility around critical data such as recruitment costs, staff turnover or absence levels.
Almost half the 466 HR/payroll professionals who took part in the survey had no idea about the cost of recruiting staff and only a third agreed that the cost of inducting new staff should seen as part these recruitment costs.
Half of those surveyed were senior HR and payroll managers or directors.
Over a third were blissfully ignorant about the levels of staff absenteeism and seven out of 10 were unable to say how their organisations' absence rates compared to the industry average.
But if they are unable to identify their organisations existing resourcing and performance challenges, the ability of HR managers to identify future recruitment and succession needs is even more questionable.
More than a third did not know their employees' average length of service, a quarter had no idea how many were due to retire in the next three years while one in 10 were not even able to say how many employees work for their organisation.
The number of participants who lacked visibility of basic information tended to be much greater in larger companies, the survey found, despite the potentially much greater financial impact on a large organisation of slight shifts in performance, retention or sickness rates.
The report warns that if HR cannot gather even the most basic employee data, it not only risks being unable to make the most of the workforce but also risks being marginalised as a management discipline.
"At best HR will stay locked in the back room, not the board room, and at worst, risk being dispensed with completely," said Snowdrop's CEO, Michael Richards.
"So HR aims to make a real business impact by contributing to strategy and business planning. But to do so, it has to first understand the HR basics."
Since almost three-quarters of HR managers did not know how their HR data compares to industry peers, the notion that HR can create a competitive advantage is nonsense, Richards added.
"These figures are only the tip of the iceberg, but they are the absolute essential 'must-know' areas. Benchmarking against past results and with the results of similar organisations means HR can embark on what they should be best at doing - asking more questions, finding the core of the situation and making things better.
"Without being able to accurately forecast future business needs, HR will only be able to 'feel its way' not fulfil its board room ambition. Without this knowledge, how can HR expect to really help drive performance?"