Top 10 HR trends to help shape your 2021 strategy

29 January 2021 | Columns


Last year will go down as one of the most infamous years of our lifetime. But we know that where there are challenges, there is also tremendous growth. We set out to understand the biggest learnings from 2020 that will impact HR leaders in 2021 and help them prepare for what’s next. After gathering feedback from our network of leaders, academics, and experts, we uncovered a list of ten top HR trends we believe will be crucial for leaders to consider this year, and beyond.

1. Maintain flexible work

Before, offices played a crucial role in company culture, and for many, productivity was partly measured by how often you were seated at your desk. Now, leaders have learned that employees can be productive even when they aren’t in the same room. And many prefer it that way.

When remote work environments are no longer something we’re forced to deal with, don’t expect people to flock back to the office all at once. Offering flexible work environments to your employees will give them the freedom to choose a working style that works best for them. Granting much-deserved autonomy and trusting teams to work where they want and when they want will make way for added engagement and commitment to the company.

2. Enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion

In 2021, creating a diverse and equitable workforce where each person can bring their best self to work regardless of their age, gender, race, background, ability, or religion, isn’t just a nice-to-have. Employees are demanding it; 74% of employees expect their employer to become more actively involved in current cultural debates, and when lack of diversity becomes apparent among the leadership, distrust among employees often follows.

3. Revamp your performance management strategy

In today’s workforce, there is little room for inefficiencies. One of the quickest ways you’ll be able to increase innovative thinking this year across your organisation is to toss out archaic performance practices, like the annual review. Rather than spending your time figuring out what your teams did well before the pandemic and the switch to remote work, weed out the processes that aren’t working and introduce new practices that can help your organisation pivot when crises strike. If that means creating a brand-new performance review strategy or introducing new HR tech, then so be it.

4. Help connect your employees’ work to the company’s mission

Employees, more than ever, are gravitating towards mission-driven companies rather than chasing a higher salary. People are more intrinsically motivated to go above and beyond for companies that align deeply with their values and put their people first.

This year, HR will play an instrumental role in helping employees connect their values to the company’s ultimate purpose. This includes training managers to have more meaningful conversations with employees, coordinating ways to give back to the community and certain causes, or breaking down traditional hierarchies that prevent people from feeling like they’re making an impact.

5. Build out an HR crisis plan

If an unprecedented pandemic has taught us something, it’s to be prepared for anything. Although it may seem next to impossible to predict what awful thing could happen next, try taking a page out of your PR specialist’s playbook and consider devising an HR crisis plan for your organisation.

“Crisis adds to organisational complexity, straining design, culture and value proposition. Whether it’s a pandemic, a natural catastrophe, or something else that proposes an imminent threat to your business, you can plan for the unexpected by creating a crisis response plan. Because at the end of the day, if employees don’t feel safe or supported at work, then they aren’t able to bring their best selves to work.

6. Protect your people from burnout

Separating work and life is hard when they both happen in the same place. And when work hours start to bleed into evenings and weekends, employees will find themselves on a fast track to burnout. And burnout can be detrimental to a business. Not only is an overworked employee likely to make more mistakes, but they’re also more stressed, depressed, and can account for a large portion of employee turnover.

7. Prioritise developing your talent

While the skills-gap crisis isn’t new to HR leaders, it has intensified with the progression of Covid-19. And reskilling a workforce in a virtual space adds an additional layer of complexity. Learning and development programs aren’t just a valuable “perk” to offer employees for their personal growth, but an effective strategy for scaling your business in an ever-changing market.

Plus, companies that prioritise growing the people within their workforce will attract and retain top talent when the time comes to hire again.

8. Focus on total rewards

In 2020, many people felt lucky just to hold onto their jobs, and employers exhausted every option to avoid layoffs if they could. Now, as roles begin opening up and the economy continues to heal from the traumas of last year, job hunters are searching for their next role and looking to find a company that supports their lifestyle. But not necessarily in the form of a check.

HR leaders will find that more people are interested in the total rewards package, including learning and development opportunities, health benefits, wellness programs, work flexibility, and recognition.

Although 2020 brought with it many challenges, it also created space for a new and improved way of work. Use these top HR trends as you build out your 2021 plan and continue preparing for what’s to come as vaccines become more readily available and the global workforce begins shifting again.

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