HR leaders’ top priorities 2021/2022

To say that the year 2021 has been challenging is a bit of an understatement. There has been a monumental shift in approaches to working from home, working remotely, working in the office and an ever-evolving change in attitude to work/life balance. Priorities have changed, with a big focus on both physical and mental health and general well-being. The old ways of doing things have come under scrutiny and for many will be impossible to return to. Add to this rises in the cost of living and many employees refusing to return to work until wages match these rising costs and what you have is a maelstrom of formidable human resource missions to undertake.

However, growing alongside these challenges are more effective and efficient ways of ensuring employee happiness and progress. Here, I will outline what should be your priority for this year and the next and look at possible trends coming down the line.

1. Hybrid and remote working

2. Health

3. Diversity and inclusion

4. Talent scouting

5. Changes to onboarding

1. Hybrid and remote working

Let’s just get this out of the way. The Coronavirus has changed everything about how we approach work. Everything that follows on this list has been affected by the changes that have come due to COVID-19. In a lot of ways, it has exposed that the ‘traditional’ workday and hiring process simply is not a one size fits all, but one that is nuanced and must be adaptable. And as anyone who works in HR will tell you, adapting to new processes and methods is just part and parcel of the job. Mostly what the last year has shown is that some jobs can be completed from home, and this has meant that for many that their daily work/life balance has changed. This has led to a number of different outcomes:

There are benefits to the hybrid model financially from a company’s perspective,

A typical employer can save about $11,000/year for every person who works remotely half of the time. Employees can save between $2,500 and $4,000 a year (working remotely half the time) and even more if they are able to move to a less expensive area and work remotely full time. https://globalworkplaceanalytics.com/work-at-home-after-covid-19-our-forecast

What should also be considered here is the idea of a 4-day working week. Whilst this may still some time off yet, and in some cases may never be realised, the hybrid model does come close to appeasing both the employer and employee. The opposition to the standard 5 day, 9 – 5 model has been growing for some time but has been accelerated by covid. Nevertheless, HR managers need to navigate this to meet both the company and employee’s expectations. The biggest challenge is implementing and maintaining an infrastructure to monitor employee hours, payroll, and other relevant data.

The challenges don’t end there however, as many are reluctant to fully embrace a hybrid model.

Most executives (68%) believe that people should be in the office at least three days a week to maintain a distinctive company culture, once the pandemic is no longer a concern. Moreover, 65% believe the office is “very important” to increasing employee productivity, while over half also consider the office very important for employee collaboration, providing spaces to meet with clients and enabling the company culture.

But…

Over half of employees (55%) say they’d like to be remote at least three days a week — little changed from the 58% who said the same in June. In contrast, when asked how they feel about remote work at their company, 43% of executives prefer limited schedules or want to be fully back in the office as soon as feasible, while only 24% expect many or all office employees to work remotely for a significant amount of their time

Expect this to be at the top of your priority list for some time to come!

2) Health

It is unsurprising that health has become a major consideration for HR in 2021. Health has always been a difficult area for HR and in fact is one of the areas that HR typically spends the least amount of time on. Simply too much time is spent on admin (more on that later) and meetings. However, more focus is being put on well-being not only due to Covid but also due to the effects that it has had on mental health. This was an issue even before Covid but was not vocalised:

A recent study by Slater and Gordon revealed that employees take four days a year off work for mental related issues, e.g. anxiety, stress, seeing a counsellor, however 55% tell their bosses that the leave is for physical ailments https://www.thehrdepartment.ie/the-hr-advisor/mental-health-in-the-workplace . – this was before Covid took hold.

However, this narrative is changing. Covid has helped to highlight the mental health issues that arise from pressures around and outside of work life. Many people feel stress over their health, financial issues if they had to take a pay cut, rising bills and other life challenges. It is not easy to speak about mental health, but HR needs to create an environment that makes it a part of a company’s policy on sick leave and well-being.

This may mean your HR dept needs to upskill in this area, but the benefits will mean happier employees and a happier workplace. It is still taking time to reduce the stigma around discussing mental health issues, but it has a big impact on productivity.

Untreated mental conditions often miss work, demonstrate lower performance than their peers and are otherwise less-than-ideal employees. Indeed, untreated mental illness costs U.S. companies over $100 billion every year, so it is in their best interest to train HR to assist employees in finding diagnoses and mental aid.

https://gethppy.com/talent-management/what-should-hr-know-about-mental-health

Regardless of the numbers associated with mental illness, it should be in everyone’s best interest to create a work environment that is open and suited to everyone’s needs, whether that is in the office or at home.

3) Diversity and inclusion

Having a workplace that is populated by people of all colours, age, genders etc. isn’t something that simply makes your company look good on the outside, diversity is not just some buzz word, or some trend that gives the outside appearance that a workplace is good. It is something that will actively increase productivity, generate ideas, and overall improve employee wellbeing.

To quickly define diversity, it is the representation of a range of traits and experiences in a company’s workforce. These characteristics include gender, race, physical ability, religion, age, and socioeconomic status, among others.

Inclusion is defined as the degree to which employees feel “valued, respected, accepted and encouraged to fully participate in the organization.”

https://blog.bonus.ly/diversity-inclusion-statistics

There is an important distinction here between diversity and inclusion, but both tend to go hand in hand. And both have an impact on productivity. The workforce is becoming more diverse, it is the most diverse that it has ever been and will only continue in this way. Add to this the change in how we work due to remote working, and your workforce can potentially be spread across the globe.

Diversity brings in new ideas and experiences, and people can learn from each other. Bringing in different ideas and perspectives leads to better problem-solving. Working in diverse teams opens dialogue and promotes creativity.

Apart from the benefits of having a wider worldview through diversity, a diverse and inclusive company will attract more employees – 67% of job seekers consider workplace diversity an important factor when considering employment opportunities, and more than 50% of current employees want their workplace to do more to increase diversity. Glassdoor

But it is not enough just to have a diverse workforce, that workforce needs to be heard as well, and needs to be represented. This is what inclusiveness is all about. It is not good for employees to not have awareness of the bigger picture of the company. No one likes to work in a bubble and feel disconnected from the daily goings on in any workplace. And this is even more true now with remote working. Being included is something that we need to feel, to feel fully happy and this is something that goes right back to our childhoods.

Inclusiveness is having face to face zoom calls, brainstorming sessions, updates on the company’s direction and progress, congratulations to teams on achieving targets and so on. It is making sure that everyone feels represented and heard from, and that they are as important to the inner workings of a company as the next person.

4) Talent Scouting

Finding the right person for the role is something that will always be a priority for HR. But what changes is how to find the right person, and like everything else on this list, it has changed dramatically over the last few years. Hiring has not slowed down in the pandemic:

in a survey conducted by Globalization Partners, CFOs said that Covid-19 has not limited companies’ internal growth. In fact, 45 percent of respondents were planning for global expansion within a year. https://www.globalization-partners.com/blog/5-hr-challenges-of-2021-what-youll-face-this-year/#gref

Of course, the right person depends on the job type. For digital roles, the option of remote working opens a much wider talent pool, although there are challenges associated with hiring someone located on the other side of the world. Technology wise, this has never been easier, with 100s of options available for interviews, portfolio presentations, video presentations and more. The hardest part will be finding the time to interview everyone that you want to!

What also needs to be considered is reskilling and upskilling of your current workforce. You may already have the most suitable candidate for a role within your workforce already. Many companies, like Google, already implement this to help their workforce adapt to changes brought on by Covid. Amazon spent 700 million reskilling workers being phased out by automation in 2019. Reskilling, and upskilling are ways to build resistance for unforeseen circumstances. While the benefits of reskilling and upskilling are known, very few companies are prepared for putting in place a upskilling or reskilling program.

Seventy-four percent of organizations say reskilling the workforce is important or very important for their success over the next 12–18 months, but only 10 percent say they are very ready to address this trend.

https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/focus/human-capital-trends/2020/reskilling-the-workforce-to-be-resilient.html

 With hands-on roles, like hospitality or events, there is an unprecedented lack of candidates for roles due to Covid and various government policies, not to mention the exposure of how unsecure these roles can suddenly become. This is simplifying a complex situation, the reasons of which I will not explore here, suffice to say that for these industries that it will take some time before things begin to return to the norm. Overcoming this shortage needs to come from the top down, with many companies offering increased benefits and wages to try and attract candidates. For HR, focusing on how to improve hiring will help to get the best talent and speed up the hiring process. Some of what I outlined already is attractive to potential employees, hybrid working, diversity, openness, and inclusiveness.

5) Changes to onboarding

Finally, with a change to hiring comes a change to onboarding. How best to integrate someone into a company’s climate when they may not see an office for months, or even at all?

Likely, if you are in HR you already have some online onboarding system in place. But as this becomes the new normal more software and onboarding methods are becoming available. Developing a consistent, yet personal process should be one of your priorities heading into 2022.

Onboarding can make or break a new employee’s commitment to a company.

It is important that even if the employee is remote or plans on working from home some days, that there is a social element to the onboarding process. Likely, this will be through Zoom or other meeting software. This also helps to clarify with the employee and others on or related to the team exactly what the role is, what is involved and what skills the new employee brings to the company. If possible, include company leaders, so that these people do not just become faceless names to any new employees.

Onboarding does not end after the first day, or first week after a new employee starts.

Conclusion.

By now I am sure you are sick of hearing about ‘unprecedented times’ that has driven change across nearly every industry. The truth is these changes were always likely to happen and the pandemic simply sped up what would have taken years to the space of a few months. Many solutions put in place have been stopgap but now is the time to develop and refine these changes and bring them into 2022. I hope that the above has helped to give you some guidance on what your priorities are going forward into a much more hopeful year.

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