Voice, flexibility and resilience - what has HR learnt in 2021?

Blog posts

16 Dec 2021

Claire CampbellClaire Campbell, Director of HR Research and Consulting

Follow @clairecampbellj

2021 seems to have come full circle with December ending as January started – many of us working from home, chronic staff shortages due to sickness absence and everyone feeling a bit burnt out.  Nevertheless, as a glass half full person, there are reasons to feel optimistic about what we can take from 2021 and where we are going next.

Firstly, wellbeing is now being given serious attention by employers, acknowledging the impact of lockdowns on physical and mental health.  High profile people talking openly about mental health and managers being asked to check in regularly with their team members, has made it ok to talk about not being ok. And whilst the jury is still out on some wellbeing interventions (such as bowls of fruit or mood apps), there are other interventions such as coaching which we know can make a real difference to peoples’ resilience and even affect their intention to stay with their employer.

Secondly, difficulty recruiting and ‘the Great Resignation’ has us once again looking at our employee offer. Organisations have been trying more creative approaches to recruitment such as ‘first come first served’ and we’ve seen a return to big signing on bonuses.  However, the research tells us that if you want people to stay, it isn’t just about the right pay but also a great flexible working offer, opportunities for progression, purpose and a great culture.  In order to attract the job hunters we have now, and entice back to work those who have stopped participating, then these become even more important.  I have had more conversations in the last couple of months about job crafting and job design, as employers realise they may have to change the way they design and advertise jobs to fit the candidates.

And as we look ahead, employers are turning their thoughts once again to workforce planning and succession. After months of being in respond mode, the HR teams I’m speaking to have been getting back to a more strategic and planned approach. We’ve been using scenarios in some of our projects this year to help play out different versions of the future and identify the potential workforce impacts. Its one way to create meaning and plan against a totally uncertain world.

Any article on learning from 2021 can’t not mention hybrid working.  As survey after survey tells us it is how staff want to work in the future, organisations have had to embrace it.  The conundrum at the heart of hybrid working (how to make it fair for everyone, whilst allowing lots of individual choice and flexibility) has made this a hard nut to crack but on the positive side, it has got top teams talking about working practices and the impact of their own behaviour on others.

Finally, I am heartened by the attention still being given to employee voice and true inclusion following #BlackLivesMatter and the events of last year.  There is far greater importance being given to diversity of voice and opinion, to listening exercises and staff involvement, and this can only improve how organisations perform. People have realised the importance of connection and I am sure I’m not the only one looking forward to more opportunities to meet, be creative and laugh with colleagues in person again when it’s safe to do so.

So, whilst we limp to the finish line of another tumultuous year, there are reasons for HR to be optimistic.  Workforce and people issues have dominated the agenda since the start of the pandemic, and with workforce shortages, will do for some time. Many organisations have been able to rapidly deploy new practices without all the usual bureaucracy and we have the ear of the board to the broader ESG agenda.  If ever there was a time to experiment and create happier, healthier, fairer workplaces, that time is now.

Wishing you all a healthy and restful festive break.

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Any views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Institute as a whole.