9 Work Trends That HR Leaders Cannot Ignore in 2021

January 21, 2021
Contributor: Brian Kropp

Several forces will shape work this year and beyond, including employee experience, the gender-wage gap, employee monitoring and the COVID-19 vaccine.

No one would dispute that 2020 upended business models, priorities and plans as organisations were forced to navigate a rapidly changing environment. HR was at the forefront of initiatives to respond to a wide range of internal and external transformative trends, from employee well-being to new workforce models and social justice.

My daily conversations with senior HR leaders, along with Gartner research development, provide me with a unique perspective on the forces affecting the workplace. To that end, below are my predictions for nine trends that HR leaders cannot afford to ignore in 2021 and beyond.

Read more: What Is the New Employment Deal?

No. 1: Employers will shift from managing the employee experience to managing the life experience of their employees.

The pandemic has given business leaders increased visibility into the personal lives of their employees. They have realised that more effectively supporting employees in their whole lives, not just their experience as employees, directly affects their ability to perform at work.

Employer support for the entire employee life experience will become table stakes

Gartner’s 2020 ReimagineHR Employee Survey found that employers that support employees with their life experience see a tangible increase (more than 20%) in the number of employees reporting better mental and physical health. Supportive employers can also realise a 21% increase in the number of high performers compared to organisations that do not provide that same degree of support to their employees. In 2021, employer support for the entire employee life experience will become table stakes in employee benefits.

Employers need to support employees’ entire life experience, not just work experience

No. 2: More companies will adopt a stance on societal and political issues.

Employees increasingly want to work for organisations where the cultural values align with their own. In 2020, Gartner research shows that 74% of employees expect their employer to become more actively involved in the cultural debates of the day. I believe CEOs will have to respond— with action—to retain and attract the best talent. A Gartner survey found that the number of employees who were considered highly engaged increased from 40% to 60% when their organisation acted on today’s social issues.

No. 3: The gender-wage gap will continue to increase as employees return to the workplace

Many organisations have already adopted a hybrid workforce — or plan to this year—enabling employees to work from the corporate office, their home, or some alternate location (coffee shop, co-working space, etc.). In this hybrid scenario, CHROs are reporting that among their workforce, men are more likely to decide to return to their workplace and women are more likely to continue to work remotely.

Full-time remote workers are 5% more likely to be high performers

A recent Gartner survey reveals 64% of managers believe that office workers are higher performers than remote workers and are likely to give in-office workers a higher raise than those who work from home. However, Gartner analysis of 2019 and 2020 data shows the opposite: Full-time remote workers are 5% more likely to be high performers than those who work full-time from the office.

If men are more likely to work from the office, and managers retain a bias toward in-office workers, we could see managers over-rewarding male employees at the expense of female employees.

Read more: Are You a Hybrid Workforce Champion or a Laggard?

No. 4: New regulations will limit employee monitoring.

During the pandemic, more than one out of four companies has purchased new technology, for the first time, to passively track and monitor their employees. However, many of these same companies have not determined how to balance employee privacy with the technology, and employees are frustrated.

Gartner research found that less than 50% of employees trust their organisation with their data, and 44% do not receive any information regarding the data collected about them. In 2021, new regulations will emerge at the state and local level that will start to put limits on what employers can track about their employees.

Read more: 6 Principles for Employee Privacy

No. 5: Flexibility will shift from location to time.

While enabling employees to work remotely became commonplace across 2020 (and will continue this year and beyond), the next wave of flexibility will be around when employees are expected to work. Gartner’s 2020 ReimagineHR Employee Survey revealed that only 36% of employees were high performers at organisations with a standard 40-hour work week.

Organisations that offer employees flexibility over when, where and how much they work, see 55% of their work force as high performers. In 2021, I expect to see a rise of new jobs where employees will be measured by their output, as opposed to an agreed-upon set of hours.

No. 6: Leading companies will make bulk purchases of the COVID-19 vaccine for employees—and will be sued over COVID-19 vaccine requirements.

Employers that provide the COVID-19 vaccine to their workforce will leverage this action as a key differentiator to attract and retain talent. In tandem, with employers providing the vaccine, several companies will be sued for requiring their employees to have proof of vaccination before allowing them to return to the workplace. The corresponding litigation will slow return-to-workplace efforts even as vaccine usage increases.

No. 7: Mental health support will expand.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought well-being to the forefront as employers are more aware than ever of the impact of mental health on employees and, by association, the workplace. By late March, 68% of organisations had introduced at least one new wellness benefit to aid employees during the pandemic.

In 2021, employers will go even further by working to de-stigmatise mental health by expanding mental health benefits—such as shutting down the entire company for a day by offering “a collective mental health day”—to build awareness across the workforce about this critical issue.

No. 8: Employers will “rent” talent to fill the skills gap.

The number of skills that employers are looking for has risen dramatically—Gartner analysis shows that companies listed about 33% more skills on job ads in 2020 than they did in 2017. Organisations cannot re-skill the capabilities of their existing workforce fast enough to meet their changing needs.

Some companies will hire and pay a premium for those skills when the need for new skills manifests. Other organisations will instead expand their use of contingent and contract hiring or expand their partnerships with organisations to “rent” employees for a short period of time to meet the skill needs that they are facing.

No. 9: Jurisdictions will compete to attract talent rather than trying to get companies to relocate.

In the U.S., states and cities have historically offered incentives to companies to get them to relocate to their jurisdiction. The new era of remote and hybrid work means that where an employee lives will be less tied to where their employer is located than ever before. This breaking of the direct tie between company location and employee location will lead states and cities to start using their tax policies to incentivise individuals to relocate to their jurisdiction rather than giving tax credits solely to large companies to relocate.

While 2020 was the most volatile year in modern history, as we move into 2021 and beyond, the rate of disruption will potentially accelerate as the implications from 2020 play out across the next several years.

You may also be interested in