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The year of redefining work: 5 workplace trends for 2021

Published: Thursday 29th April 2021

2020 was the year we all experienced unprecedented change in our working lives, and these changes aren’t likely to slow down any time soon. All this time, HR has been at the forefront of initiatives to respond to a wide range of internal and external transformative trends. However, many of these workplace changes necessitated by the pandemic are likely to impact our working norms long-term by forming certain workplace trends. Several aspects will be shaping work this year and beyond, including employee experience, flexible working, the importance of mental health support as well as enhanced social responsibility activities. 

So, here are our predictions on 5 workplace trends for 2021 and beyond that are here to stay and will be shaping business and the UK job market. 

Flipping of wooden cubes block to change 2020 to 2021 year.

Increased effort to prevent burnout through employee experience 

The pandemic has been hard for us all in different ways, which is taking its toll. Some have been struggling to work from home whilst balancing homeschooling while others have missed the office buzz. Since the start of the pandemic, 60% of adults in the UK reported their overall mental health had worsened due to long working hours and burnout.

Similarly, searches on Google for working from home and mental health have been increasing rapidly. A look at Google trends confirms there’s in fact been a 12% rise in the search term “mental health”. So, for employers and managers recognisining the health of their team and offering support, is now more important than ever. 

The need for companies to prioritise the health and well-being of employees certainly isn’t new. But the pandemic has highlighted that it must be an even bigger priority going forward.

If employers are to retain top talent, prevent burnout, and attract strong candidates, they must foster a culture that prioritises mental and physical health and wellbeing. Employees should be encouraged to ask for additional support or help when it comes to their physical or mental health.

Increased expectation of workplace flexibility

The pandemic has not only shifted where we work but also when we work. The workday for many is now chunks of time spaced out over day and night. These circumstances have thrust flexibility and adaptability to the forefront of critical skills. After more than a year of this “new normal,” we can see that working remotely all of the time can in fact work without any loss in productivity. 

As such, employers now have an important opportunity to assess exactly what is working and what isn’t. By looking beyond job titles, managers can map out essential functions and activities, and reimagine workflows in order to anticipate tomorrow’s workplaces and the expectations of tomorrow’s workforces. Employees expect increased flexibility, both for the benefit of the employer and employee, with clear communication strategies. In fact, working from home has now turned from a concept into an absolute working reality. A recent survey conducted by Zoek revealed that for 43% of respondents the most obvious question that people want an answer for, as regards a potential new employer, relates to working from home. The more questions around mental health provision, workplace social distancing, awareness, and consideration, and hygiene to which a hiring organisation can provide credible answers, the greater the sense of reassurance and recognition they will convey.

And while the transition to work-from-home has been relatively seamless, employers are coming across administrative challenges in a distributed work model. For example, workers may now work from a different state than their official workplace. Consequently, this could start raising tax withholding and employment law questions for HR professionals with businesses turning into multi-state employers.

Successful team at work. Group of young business people working and communicating together in creative office

A focus on employee retention

Quite simply, life is hard during a pandemic, even for those fortunate enough to remain employed. As such, the most successful employers will be those that are working towards improving the burdens felt by employees, as there is a clear link between mental and physical well-being and employee engagement and productivity. 

Putting in place benefits such as access to mental health support, employee wellness programs, paid leave to address health and wellness, and workplace-sponsored childcare can go a long way toward giving an employer a huge competitive advantage in recruiting and retaining top talent. Leading employers are already increasing support in these key areas and this trend is likely to continue even after the pandemic subsides. Moreover, the pandemic has also revealed holes in the societal safety net with an expected surge in legislation addressing workplace wellness issues. 

A focus on social responsibility and sustainability 

This one comes as no surprise, but businesses will need to embrace more sustainable practices in 2021. This applies to all forms of business practices: from the way they produce products and services, to the way they run offices. More and more suppliers and manufacturers around the world are striving to improve their sustainable business practices, from the materials they use to produce products, to the way these materials are put together and shipped out. 

And this trend is one that undoubtedly makes many employers uncomfortable, but it is something that must be addressed head-on. With a growing desire among employees to work for companies whose values align with their own, they are much more likely to be highly engaged if they believe their employers are working toward a greater good. Nowadays, employees expect companies to take stands on issues that impact the public good, including the environment and equal justice. So building this type of social capital can be a significant asset for a company looking to improve employee loyalty and retention. Corporate social responsibility can be a real opportunity to drive employee engagement.  

Increased digital presence

Digital presence is more important now than ever before. Companies should allocate their spending toward innovative technology and digital events versus in-person events.

While 2020 was the most volatile year in modern history, the disruption is not yet over. In fact, the rate of disruption will potentially accelerate as the implications from 2020 play out across the next decade.

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