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Predictions for 2021: How will employee experience change?

29 Jan 2021 -

People Insight’s employee experience predictions for 2021 will help HR leaders support employees and focus on what matters most for your organisation in the year ahead 

2020 was a year of adapting and reprioritising HR activities in the wake of COVID, the Black Lives Matter movement and socio-political unrest. This reactive state meant planned people activities took a back seat. With a squeeze on budgets, continued uncertainty and an ever-growing list of priorities, our predictions for 2021 will help inform your next move.  

We’ve summarised our employee experience predictions for 2021 here, so download our full report for further resources, planning guides and business examples to guide your 2021 programme.  

  1. Authentic and agile leadership is here to stay:  

People will be looking to their employers for support and transparency as the uncertainty continues; the spotlight will be firmly fixed upon leaders.  

  1. Rebuilding a more human workplace:   

As remote working continues at scale, organisations need to rethink how they operate, manage employees and encourage collaboration. Cementing values, culture and behaviour will be more important for organisations than ever.  

  1. Caring for employee health and happiness:  

The exhaustive list of psychological and physical stressors faced by employees is now, in part, the responsibility of employers. Organisations must step up in these areas, or risk losing talent.  

Five employee experience predictions for 2021  

1. Frequent listening, a new standard  

During the pandemic, many organisations recognised the value of checking in with employees on a regular basis to inform decision making.  

The potential of this rapid feedback means employee pulse surveys are now an essential part of a leader’s toolkit. 

Case-study: How London South Bank University use surveys to inform change

In the year ahead, leaders will use frequent listening to:  

  • Inform new working arrangements. Surveys will support the design of new working arrangement policies and practices by understanding employee preferences e.g. number of office days, work schedules, and caring commitments.  
  • Improve health and happiness. An employer’s wellbeing strategy is going to be crucial for ensuring a mentally and physically fit workforce. Surveys will reveal current states, enabling the design of targeted wellbeing strategies.  
  • Navigate through change. With more change on the horizon as organisations rebound after Covid, pulse surveys that can measure employee sentiment will ensure that changes are successful, and employees buy in to the process.  
  • Invest in diversity and inclusion. When investing in D&I programmes which people have a strong personal response to, it is vital to understand how employees are experiencing them and measure their impact. Targeted surveys will gather valuable insights to inform long-term D&I strategies. 

Long read: People Insight’s complete guide to running a pulse survey  

2. The connected leader  

Responding to the pandemic forced leaders to become more transparent, open and human when connecting with their employees.  

Sustaining this authentic style of communications will help get people onboard with reshaped plans and embrace more change to come. At a time of low national mood, leaders can also keep spirits and engagement high by leveraging their newfound relationship with employees.  

“Remote working and social distancing need not mean distant leadership. In fact, it requires a depth of contact and connection that has always marked out the best leaders.”

David D’Souza, Director of Membership, CIPD

Your 2021 comms plan:  

  1. Run an internal comms audit – Ask employees what they are hearing and believing, from whom, and what their comms preferences are. This insight will help develop a long-term comms strategy that hits the mark every time. 
  1. Understand how well managers are connecting. 360 feedback gives a rounded picture of a manager’s performance. Customise the questionnaire to assess how effectively managers are connecting with people and creating trust and belief. 
  1. Show empathy. Use emotional intelligence as part of your leadership toolkit and welcome honesty across your organisation. Use employee listening technology to understand how employees are feeling, monitor sentiment and invite their feedback on change.  

3. The office isn’t dead, just different  

Despite tech giants such as Twitter and Fujitsu now offering permanent remote working, most businesses expect employees will want to return to the office at least some of the time once an effective vaccine is in place.  

According to Gartner 48% of employees hope to work remotely at least some of the time post-pandemic, and People Insight’s survey data suggests that 50% of respondents would prefer to work from the office 3-4 days each week.  

Learn more: Advice from 8,000 employees for working from home 

While an office will still be needed for collaboration, social connection and for those without an effective home office, your 2021 workplace is likely to look very different! 

4. D&I progress must measure up  

Sparked by social movements including BLM, #metoo and, in the UK, gender pay gap reporting, 2020 often felt like a bitter pill to swallow as we realised that we are not where we should be when it comes to D&I. 

Last year saw some progress made, but 2021 will demand organisations do a lot more to challenge discrimination and be actively anti-racist.  

Download: Your 12-month Diversity and Inclusion plan template  

To make an impact this year, organisations must create D&I strategies which explore all areas of diversity, including race, gender, socioeconomic status and neurodiversity, and are embedded into all aspects of an organisation from recruitment through to values and behaviours. ‘Tick in the box’ policies are not enough. For many organisations this means bringing in an D&I specialist (just take a look at current LinkedIn vacancies for an idea of the number).  

In 2021, organisations will also be expected to measure and report on their D&I progress with investors, employees and potential talent holding leaders to account. Our clients like Brewin Dolphin, Vinci Construction and several Universities and Emergency Services already use employee surveys to gather and report on D&I data. 

Long read: What to ask in your Diversity & Inclusion survey 

5. Taking care of mind and body

Employees are less psychologically and physically well now, when compared to before the pandemic.   

On top of their legal requirement for health & safety, organisations have in recent years taken on more responsibility for the holistic wellbeing of employees. To build success in 2021, organisations will need to take this further in order to rebuild a healthy and happy workforce and support their employees’ quality of life. 

Supporting psychological fitness:  

This year will see employers step away from policy and paid-for solutions such as Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP), and instead help their people overcome this challenge through behavioural change. For example:  

  • Create an engaging place to work that gives employees a sense of purpose, direction and orientates them towards personal and shared goals  
  • Continue to accommodate personal circumstances, particularly in working arrangements  
  • Show sensitivity to those impacted by the pandemic in the language used  
  • Raise awareness of mental wellbeing so employees can recognise and acknowledge when they are experiencing stress  
  • Make frontline response available such as by training mental health first aiders 

Supporting physical fitness:  

According to Ofcom at the height of 2020’s lockdown, adults were spending 45 hours per week in front of a screen and diets also became less healthy. With clear evidence linking physical health to performance at work, in 2021 employers will need to take on some of the responsibility for the fitness of their workforce. For example:  

  • Gamification of health activities, such as team step challenges  
  • Promotion of wellbeing support, such as subsidised gym memberships  
  • Encourage walking meetings  
  • Social activities, such as laughter yoga and recreational sports teams  
  • Home workplace self-assessment, encouraging employees to check their set-up 

To find out how People Insight can help you evaluate and improve your employee experience and culture in 2021:  

Contact us

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