Top 5 Human Resource Trends to Watch in 2021

1.2.21

As COVID-19 continues to impact the global workforce in 2020, HR leaders are rethinking their workforce management approach to prepare for the coming year. While many new human resource trends are emerging, there are several common themes that will drive how HR departments approach the employee life cycle.

At Beekeeper, we are closely following the intersection of HR tech and the employee experience so that we can develop cutting-edge tools that connect frontline workers. Here are the five trends in HR we think are worth keeping in mind to navigate through the current crisis, keep employee engagement high, and business thriving through 2021.

1. Current HR Trends: Increased Importance of HR Within Organizations

HR manages the life cycle of employees in an organization: recruiting, hiring, onboarding, training, and separation. Despite the negative effect of COVID-19 on the job market, 60% of companies have hired at least one new employee since the start of the pandemic.

While some industries (such as hospitality and retail) have had to lay off existing employees and freeze hiring new ones, other industries have increased their workforce numbers due to a surge in demand for their products or services. 

HR departments have had to navigate an onslaught of new challenges for employees while also hiring and onboarding new team members remotely to follow social distancing guidelines. 

Remote hiring and onboarding involve new challenges for HR departments such as:

  • Interviewing and assessing a candidate’s skills virtually
  • Screening for candidates who are well-suited to remote work 
  • Conveying company culture during a virtual recruiting and training process

But HR’s role during the pandemic extends beyond the hiring process. At its core, HR’s main objective is to support an organization’s employees. As businesses continue to adapt to the new normal, existing employees will need more support than ever before.

For employees, the companies they work for are a key source of guidance and information during the pandemic. 

80% of workers who are new to remote work say that their company’s internal communication helps them feel more confident in their own actions when making decisions during the crisis. 

Many employees are navigating remote work for the first time and have to deal with new challenges like loneliness or balancing work with other at-home responsibilities. 

In addition to these new challenges workers face, people are constantly inundated with information about the pandemic almost 24/7. With news coming out on a near-daily basis, workers are looking to their employers as a reliable source of information on topics like safety and job security.

That’s why in 2021, we predict that one of the current HR trends will be an increased focus on digital communication. With social distancing guidelines in place, employees need to stay informed remotely. In frontline industries where updates on health and safety information directly impact your workers’ ability to do their jobs, instant updates are a must-have.

2. Trends in HR: More Emphasis on Employee Mental Health

Statistics show that COVID-19 has negatively impacted our mental health. During late June of 2020, the CDC found that 40% of US adults were experiencing mental health or substance abuse struggles as a result of the pandemic.

The role of HR includes advocating for the health of an organization’s employees, which is why one of the enduring trends in HR we see for 2021 is investing in mental health and well-being initiatives. 

That includes:

  • Being available: Employees are likely experiencing mental health struggles like feeling overwhelmed about working remotely or anxious about their future within the company. HR departments can make themselves available for employees to voice their fears to and answer any questions they may have.
  • Showing empathy: Working remotely and social distancing can cause many people to feel isolated. Team managers are responsible for addressing these issues, but HR departments will have to take them into consideration, too. If an employee’s job performance is suffering as a result of pandemic-related mental health struggles, HR might need to step in to offer support and resources to get help. 
  • Offering long-term remote work support: For many organizations, remote work has become a permanent solution, at least for the foreseeable future. HR departments might have developed mental health initiatives during the beginning stages of the pandemic, but will inevitably need to develop longer-term solutions for support. 

In 2021, more HR departments will need to develop long-term strategies for providing employees with mental health resources. Those strategies will then likely stay at the forefront of the recruiting process and become a key selling point for attracting new hires.

Organizations that do plan to reopen their workplaces will have to decide how to do so while prioritizing the health and safety of their employees. While that will likely include initiatives like reorganizing physical spaces and updating company policies, mental health needs to be part of the equation, too. 

As Caroline Walsh of Gartner says: “It’s clear that the challenge of returning to the workplace isn’t just an operations challenge; it’s a human challenge.”

3. HR Technology Trends: Reliance on Data-Driven Insights

As more employees are working remotely due to the pandemic, companies are increasingly investing in tools to help them assess the productivity and engagement of their workforce (particularly for frontline employees).

HR departments are having to find ways to make sure employees are hitting targets while maintaining a work environment that takes mental well-being into consideration. 

16% of employers are now using technology that can help them monitor internal communications and enable employees to virtually clock in and out.

Long gone are the days of the traditional employee engagement survey, wherein HR would manually distribute surveys to their teams and painstakingly try to extract valuable insights from the responses. Tools that allow real-time feedback are essential for understanding how employees are adapting to and coping with the rapid changes brought on during the pandemic.

HR professionals are adopting more sophisticated tools to measure not only employee productivity but also well-being. All of this data feeds into the decision-making process around improving workplace conditions and making smarter hiring decisions.  

Although employee surveys are powerful tools for taking the pulse of an organization’s employees, data-driven insights are coming from more non-traditional monitoring techniques, too. In 2018, Gartner found that more than 50% of large corporations surveyed were using non-traditional techniques like email scraping and tracking workspace usage to monitor employees.

COVID-19 has forced HR departments to rely even more heavily on data-driven insights to guide their decisions. In 2021, one of the driving HR technology trends will likely involve HR leaders combining multiple monitoring tools to gather data and turn it into actionable insights.

4. Overcoming the Challenges of a More Fluid Workforce

There’s no doubt that COVID-19 has brought on an abundance of economic uncertainty, causing many workers to lose their jobs and companies to reconsider their hiring and workforce, management models.

Contract or freelance workers give employers more flexibility in terms of hiring and managing their workforce. More organizations are now expanding the number of contract workers they hire, with 32% replacing full-time employees with contract workers to save costs

A more fluid workforce is a trend that’s here to stay. According to Peter Miscovich, Managing Director at JLL Consulting, as much as 80% of the workforce will be working on a freelance basis by 2030. 

For 2021, that means HR departments will need to give additional thought and resources to attracting freelance or contract workers. HR will also need to address challenges like figuring out how performance metrics and benefits apply to workers that don’t work for the company full time.

For frontline industries, dealing with a fluid workforce is nothing new. Many companies employ frontline workers on a contract basis and turnover is often high. What’s more, the turnover rate for these flex roles has only escalated during the recent months. Amazon’s turnover rate, for example, was double the industry average at the start of the pandemic. One of the current trends in HR for frontline industries involves finding ways to streamline onboarding to keep up with this demand. 

5. New Definition of the Employee Experience

2020 has already forced many companies and workers to rethink what the employee experience means. With less job security and a shift towards remote work, many of us are adjusting to a “new normal” when it comes to how, when, and where we work. But how will that “new normal” look in 2021?

The good news is the pandemic is having a positive effect on the employee experience. 

McKinsey found that the flexibility that comes with remote work has increased engagement and well-being levels among US-based employees.

But McKinsey also found that more than 80% of their respondents said the pandemic is materially affecting their work lives. In 2021, HR departments will need to get more clear on how employees are affected through engagement tools and company surveys. They will then need to use that data to start defining the employee experience and company culture unique to each organization.

A New Chapter for Current Trends in HR

As the future of work continues to develop, and we all find ways to adjust to life in the new normal, whether we continue to work remotely from home or on the front lines, the evolution of digital HR tools will play a crucial role in maintaining employee engagement amidst rapid changes in many industries.

While more operational processes and workflows may be automated or redistributed, the basic human need to feel connected and fulfilled at work will remain an evergreen priority for all HR leaders.