Looking into the HR Crystal Ball: 2021 Predictions

Expect some significant challenges to impact human resources in the year ahead. According to Blue Rock Search, keep your eyes open for nine major trends, including continuing coronavirus complications, hiring freezes, and the game changing strategic imperative of diversity, equity and inclusion.

January 29, 2021 – Human resource leaders occupy a unique role – their job is to size up talent, not just in one department, but across an entire organization. Seeing both reality and possibilities, HR executives help company leaders (and fellow employees) chart the best path forward often at moments of change, transition, or crisis.

Blue Rock Search offers nine trends that will impact HR this year. Among them: the continuation of COVID-19 complications, employee resignations, training and managing virtual teams, hiring freezes, social injustice imperatives, and the rise in diversity, equity and inclusion as a top-of-mind focus for C-suite leaders. Let’s take a closer look.

1. COVID Complications Continue

Across the country, people are getting vaccinated, starting with healthcare workers. “Government officials predict there will be enough doses for people who are not in high-risk groups in spring or summer,” said Ruben Moreno, HR practice leader for Blue Rock Search. “The Trump administration promised the vaccine would be free for all, and the Biden administration is expected to uphold that commitment.”

“If your organization is one of the many that looks forward to the day when employees can return to the office, you are likely to be considering mandatory vaccinations,” he said. “The EEOC says this is permitted, though you will need to make exceptions for employees with religious objections or disabilities.”

No matter what the policy, HR employees should prepare for pushback. In a November 2020 poll by the Pew Research Center, it was reported that 60 percent of those surveyed are willing to get a vaccine, while two-in-10 people had already decided they were “pretty certain” they would not get a vaccine. “The results indicate the need for HR to have a plan in place if the CEO announces he/she wants everyone back in the office in 2021,” Mr. Moreno said.

2. Employees Want to Know, “Why Do I Have to Come Back to the Office?”

Commercial real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle polled over 2,000 office workers to uncover attitudes about returning to the office. Their Human Experience Report reported that 74 percent wanted to work from the office, either full-time or as part of a hybrid approach. “Flipping that statistic implies that 26 percent of employees would prefer to work from home,” said Mr. Moreno. “This group won’t be happy if the boss announces all workers must return to the brick-and-mortar headquarters. Some employees will grumble, but they will accept the decree. Others will demand a Zoom meeting with you to discuss the policy.” This leads to Blue Rock’s next prediction.”

3. The Economy Improves, Causing Employers to Be Hit with a Flurry of Resignations

Many economists predict the economy will experience a K-shaped recovery. Different industries will recover at different rates. “Some will experience strong growth early in 2021, while others will languish,” Mr. Moreno said. “No matter what industry you are in, 2020 was a year when many people hunkered down in jobs they did not love, afraid to make a move.”

 Ruben Moreno leads the Blue Rock HR executive search practice specializing in the identification, assessment, recruitment, and onboarding of chief HR officers and their teams. As a subject matter expert and specialized executive recruiter, he has been dedicated to partnering with his clients to identify, assess, and recruit the best human resources leadership talent available for over 12 years. 

As the economy improves, be prepared for turnover, Mr. Moreno cautions. “Some employees will leave for the usual reasons— like more money and better opportunities,” he said. “Others will leave because they are dissatisfied – or even angry – with how an organization has handled employee relations during the pandemic. No one wants to lose great employees in challenging times. Put your ear to the ground and listen for rumbles of discontent – especially regarding prediction No. 4.”

4. Employees Complain They are Exhausted, But Your Company has a Hiring Freeze

If you saw fewer requests to take vacation days in 2020, you were not alone. A survey conducted by online personal finance information website, ValuePenguin4 reported:

  • 44 percent of working Americans did not use any of their paid time during the summer of 2020.
  • An additional 22 percent took less time off than normal, with 16 percent expressing concerns that they could be at risk of furloughs or layoffs if they did take time off. Peakon, a technology company with a platform to help companies engage employees, surveyed worker attitudes5 and found:
  • 26 percent are burned out and need a break.
  • Only 11 percent of Americans feel energized and driven.
  • Only eight percent of women say they are energized now.

“Many companies instituted hiring freezes in 2020,” Mr. Moreno said. “While there is no doubt the bottom line is essential, it may be time to convene your leadership team to discuss the state of your human capital and how to maintain productivity, all while avoiding the loss of key personnel.”

5. It’s Time to Mandate Professional Development Training Regarding Managing Virtual Teams

Managing a virtual team has shifted from a temporary solution to the new status quo at many enterprises. Mr. Moreno notes that leading a virtual team requires new skills in critical areas, such as:

    • Communication.
    • Best practices for remotely handing off work.
    • Training new employees.
    • Technology.
    • Monitoring and evaluating employee performance.
    • Providing feedback when you don’t meet people face-to-face.
    • Creating a sense of “belonging” and “community.”
    •  Creating a sense of “belonging” and “community.”

6. The Challenges of Compensation in a “Work Anywhere” World

Facebook, headquartered in Menlo Park, CA, made news last May when CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the company planned to ramp up hiring remote workers. In a videoconference, he said workers who choose to work from locations where the cost of living was lower should expect adjustments to compensation.
Related: Companies Planning Big Comeback Post-Pandemic Crisis

Mr. Moreno says that Facebook is not the only tech company rethinking compensation. In a Wall Street Journal article, Reddit and Zillow were named as two of the companies now setting pay without regard to location. Stripe, a payment platform, took the additional step of offering one-time bonuses to employees who moved out of San Francisco, Seattle, or New York – and agreed to a pay cut of up to 10 percent to live in places where the cost of living was less. Blue Rock Search predicts developing new models for locality-based compensation will be on the mind of many CEOs in tech and beyond in the coming year. HR professionals will need to be prepared to navigate these conversations.

7. When Working Remotely Means Leaving the Country

When a team’s star performer embraces the company’s new work-anywhere policy and decides to spend the next three months in a cabin in Finland, the boss may initially support them. But what if the cabin has a poor internet connection leading to frozen screens and garbled communications during Zoom meetings? And what happens when other team members complain because the star performer isn’t available during “normal working hours” due to time zone differences?

Talent Trends: Looking Ahead at 2021
The coronavirus pandemic has turned the business world, including executive recruitment, upside down. Dan Hawkins of Summit Leadership Partner has identified some interesting trends for 2021. Among them: An exodus of C-level talent is underway; start-up CEOs are becoming scale-up CEOs; equity and inclusion is becoming embedded in the leadership equation; and board effectiveness is taking center stage. Let’s take a closer look.

Talking to candidates, Blue Rock has noticed a growing number of working professionals who aspire to nomadic, global citizen lifestyles. This could include living like natives in Airbnb locations around the world during the year. “You might be okay with this – or you might not,” said Mr. Moreno. “Spend a few quiet moments thinking about the implications of hiring a global citizen. Should there be policies in place about where you can work and when you must be available? What questions would you ask in an interview to uncover this dream?”

8. Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion is a Strategic Imperative in 2021

Organizations value diversity but often struggle to hire and retain diverse employees. “Tepid support from leaders, the inability to build diverse talent pipelines, and unconscious biases among hiring managers are common obstacles,” said Mr. Moreno. “Winning in this space requires a full-systems approach covering corporate values, employee resource groups, supplier diversity, talent development, and compliance.”

“At Blue Rock, we talk to thousands of candidates every year,” he said. “As a rule, highly-sought candidates ask probing DE&I questions as part of their decision-making process for potential opportunities. As of August 2020, candidates considering positions at publicly-held companies will now be able to factcheck using human capital disclosures mandated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.”

Related: What Companies are Looking for in a CEO During a Pandemic

As reported by ChiefLearningOfficer.com, all publicly-held corporations must report metrics covering total workforce cost, human capital ROI, EBIT per employee, turnover rate, total development and training cost, and the percentage of employees who have completed compliance training. “Larger organizations need to report on additional metrics, including diversity by age, gender and disability, leadership diversity, leadership trust, time to fill vacant positions and time to fill critical vacant positions, the percentage of positions filled internally, and the percentage of critical positions filled internally,” said Mr. Moreno. “In 2021, expect this information to be considered by more candidates, as well as customers and shareholders.”

9. Be Ready for Employees who Speak Out About Societal Injustice

“More than once in 2020, we felt enormous sympathy for HR leaders who had to deal with company missteps when employees took a stance in their work environment to protest societal injustice,” said Mr. Moreno. “And count yourself as lucky if you haven’t had employees complain about buttons and T-shirts worn by co-workers.”

“In 2020, many people felt their value systems were under attack,” Mr. Moreno said. “Some brought strong views to work in the form of “Black Lives Matter” T-shirts or MAGA hats. Reactions within workplaces varied. At some businesses, missteps resulted in negative news stories and widespread employee concern. Diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives will not succeed unless everyone embraces them. To make that happen, HR professionals must lead the way to help their organization understand bias, promote a culture of respect and present the benefits of embracing differences.”

Jason Averbook, a columnist for HRExecutive.com, said: “It is not an us-vs.-them, an anti-police or pro-police, or a black-vs.-white thing. This is about doing what is fair and right in a time of monumental change. This is about protecting humanity: your neighbor, your colleague, your friend.”

Blue Rock Search predicts 2021 will be a year of continued change, pressure, and high visibility for the HR function for all these reasons. Mr. Moreno says HR executives will help their organizations “WIN” in 2021 by fostering the right balance of empathy, prudence, and commitment when dealing with employees. As Doug Conant, former CEO of Campbell’s Soup, said: “To win the marketplace, you must first win the workplace.”

Related: Major Paradigm Shifts Coming Out of the Coronavirus Crisis

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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