6 Brilliant Predictions for Employee Engagement in 2021

December 8, 2020

When we were coming up with employee engagement predictions for 2020, no one could have imagined that halfway through the year, an unfathomable 42 percent of the U.S. labor force would be working from home

Now here we are, 12 months later, trying to make sense of the chaos and disruption that was 2020, and forecast how the world of work will respond. Here are our predictions for how businesses will engage with employees in 2021:

1. Remote Work is Here to Stay

One of the few silver linings of this dumpster-fire of a year is that many companies are realizing how productive employees can be when given the flexibility to work where and when it makes most sense for THEM. Companies that have never considered flexible or remote work in the past are rethinking that attitude in light of COVID. The benefits of reduced overhead costs and increased productivity are more clear now than they’ve ever been before, and that’s great news for employees and companies alike.

That said, it’s also become painfully clear that some things are REALLY hard to do virtually, like team bonding and collaboration. In 2021, companies will be challenged with maintaining remote work options while bringing back in-person work opportunities, and doing so in a clear, equitable and sustainable way. – Ann Melinger, CEO

2. Greater Empathy & Mental Health Awareness

There’s a heightened awareness and understanding of what’s often a taboo topic: grief. I suspect (and hope) that this may evolve bereavement policies to be longer, more flexible, and inclusive of non-immediate family members. 

"There’s an opportunity for team and manager training on how to support colleagues during times of grief. What do you say when you’re terrified of saying the wrong thing? What gestures should you make/not make to show your grieving colleague you’re there for them?"

I also think there will be a greater focus on mental health benefits. We’ve seen lots of companies already add virtual talk therapy services to make it easy for their people to connect with therapists from the comforts of home - and I imagine this will only continue. – Becky Sennett, Senior Strategist & Research Lead

3. The Rise of Soft Skills

Now that we've all (somewhat!) survived the rapid fire, real-time training of how to do our jobs remotely and what tools to use - 2021 will be the year of advancing soft skills in the workplace, particularly for people managers. 

Some managers struggled, understandably, with the shift to remote working (where's the playbook to manage during a global pandemic?!). With less visibility into what their teams were doing and fewer organic opportunities to check in with people, they felt disconnected. 

People managers will need more support in the future to learn how to trust and empower their teams and lead from a distance. – Lindsay McCleary, Head of Project Management

4. Listening, Learning and Adjusting 

Major societal issues will continue to play out at work, including diversity, equity and inclusion, the pandemic, and civic engagement. 

I also anticipate changes in how employees engage with social media, mobile apps, and chat features at work in the year ahead. We’ve all learned a lot about how these tools and algorithms can be disruptive and manipulative in our day-to-day lives, and I’m curious to see if that fosters more trust in the employee-employer communication relationship or less. 

In happier news, communication and the employee experience will continue to be a top priority for companies, especially as they keep their teams remote through the summer or possibly, indefinitely. – Sara Forner Howland, Vice President

5. great expectations (and accountability)

COVID-19, the global reckoning for racial justice and the tense political atmosphere have highlighted the importance of leadership being at the forefront and putting the human experience for employees first. Current employees and prospective new hires will remember and judge these companies, for better or worse, by how they responded to these major moments.

Employees will ask how companies responded to COVID. Employees of color will research how companies responded to BLM, what they said, and take a more critical look on channels like GlassDoor. What companies do and don’t do will matter.

Likewise, employees will continue to raise their expectations and mount pressure on their leaders and companies to have a public stance on issues, policies and even elected officials. We’re going to see more companies rise to this tricky challenge while others will be called out if their house isn’t in order. – Gabriel Galdamez, Marketing Manager & Client Strategist

6. Turning the Focus Inward

Once companies figure out what the future of work looks like for them, they’ll need to define it. I see many companies pausing to evaluate/redefine/overhaul values, behaviors, DEI philosophies and yes, the beloved employee value proposition. The silver lining of the tragic events and complete chaos that took 2020 by storm is that they put a spotlight on critical social issues and forced companies to take action. 

"Purpose, culture, inclusion and social responsibility are no longer back-burner initiatives - they’re center-stage business strategies that come with a whole lot of accountability."

Additionally, with flexible work arrangements becoming the new norm, companies will need to find other ways to differentiate themselves and attract/retain top performers in an increasingly competitive market. – Patty Rivas, Vice President

What else is ON THE HORIZON?

Ragan is foreseeing that humanity, authenticity and empathy will remain front and center for internal comms pros and we couldn't agree more! Meanwhile, Gartner surveyed more than 800 HR leaders and identified the the current and future leadership bench as one of the three top priorities for 2021. Even Salesforce has thrown predictions into the hat. Their executives are expecting an increased demand from customers to deliver demonstrable positive impact on the communities they serve.

No one could have predicted what 2020 had in store but, if we take stock of what we've learned this year, we can make a real difference for our people in 2021. Let's do it!

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Patty Rivas

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