This letter from Reward Gateway Group HR Director Robert Hicks was originally published on the Reward Gateway blog.
To my fellow HR community,
This year, the year we thought would be the “return to normal,” has ended with the understanding that the “Before Times” are permanently in the past. From managing a dispersed workforce, navigating pandemic precautions and compliance, to standing out in a highly competitive recruitment landscape, we are all continuing to weather the challenges that come with this new world of work.
While many businesses have acclimated to this new world of work, hurdles still persist for the HR community. We’re in the thick of a people crisis and HR is in the middle.
We find ourselves tasked with answering the tough questions: How do we ensure employee productivity in a hybrid environment? How do we keep our folks feeling connected when the physical office is no longer always the hub and origin of company culture? How do we keep people at the core of our purpose when there are constant shifts in the talent landscape?
These are big questions. And they remain unanswered at many companies. If 2020 was the year of quick, real-time reactions and adaptations to simply keep the lights on, 2021 was the year of coming face-to-face with the implications of those decisions – decisions that we’ll still be unpacking in 2022.
So as 2021 ends, let us reflect on its bigger moments and lessons. I’m not naive to say that 2022 will be easier, but it will be the year that separates the companies that take those big questions seriously and builds a foundation of success.
2021: The Year of Employee Must-Haves
In 2021, the talent market was a high-speed race, and employees (for the first time in a generation) were in the driver’s seat. 42% of employees surveyed in June 2021 were either currently looking for a new employer, or planned to be in the next 12 months, aided by the fact that 66% of HR leaders were currently hiring. Across industries, there has been a dramatic need for workers and not enough talent to fulfill this need.
What were employees’ must-haves at the negotiating table? Fair pay and flexible working topped their list in 2021, followed by: trusted leadership, a manager who cares about their employees, a culture of open and honest communication, and financial, physical and mental wellbeing support.
HR teams have done more than ever this past year to support their people, and this won’t change. What we will see evolve here is that flexibility will be an overarching theme for years to come.
Flexibility: From a Recruitment Perk to a Mindset
The flexibility conversation initially revolved around where people worked. As companies pushed back their official “return date” to the office and many workers became increasingly comfortable with the flexibility and freedom working from home afforded them, it became clear to many that “working from anywhere” would be a difficult pandemic-era trend to reverse.
As a result, flexibility has become more than just where you work: It’s also how you do it and when you do it. Not everyone works best the same way (e.g. some employees still want in-office to be an option, while others do not). To be successful, we must look at the whole proposition of flexibility for our workforce to offer an experience that fits for each employee’s individual needs.
This means incorporating flexibility into our benefits, our reward and recognition, and our communication. Flexibility must be embedded into the company ethos, no longer simply a recruitment buzzword.
Technology Reset: Simplifying the Employee Experience
It’s no secret that we’ve all found technology to be an important tool in our pandemic-era tool chest. To put out the competing challenges of 2021, we adopted new technology to ensure we were giving employees what they needed to do their jobs and feel supported in the process. An unintended side effect is that many employees must now navigate across multiple platforms and apps.
Technology is supposed to make our lives easier, not more complicated and disjointed. Therefore, we must take a step back and identify where we can streamline the employee experience. This is where integrations will be key.
One area where we’ve seen (and will continue to see) the impact of doing so is reward and recognition. In today’s uncertain environment, it’s more important than ever for employees to know that their hard work is seen and appreciated, regardless if they work in the office, at home, on the road or on the frontline.
As such, companies must adapt recognition programs for the digital world. And these won’t be effective if they are difficult for employees to use. Instead, HR must look for ways to integrate digital recognition initiatives into an existing environment. No one wants another application to open and manage.
The Year Ahead: “The Great Adjustment”
“The Great Resignation” was the big topic of conversation this year, but as we look ahead, we can see that we’re now heading into the era of “The Great Adjustment.” More than ever, employees are insisting that they work where they feel appreciated, valued and supported, at a company that they can trust.
To do so, we must be less reactive and adjust our activities to focus on how we can create an employer brand that’s sustainable and does good by our people. That means we must focus on the inputs, and the outputs will follow. Translation: If treating our people well becomes our first-and-foremost priority, then productivity, retention and a more engaged workforce will come.
2022 is about appreciating the people you have and adjusting to give people what they want in the future. The Great Adjustment is coming, and it will be a mindset shift that continues the separation between the successful companies that make their people’s wellbeing a priority and those who fail to do so.
In the end, the mission is clear. If we can lead with ‘how can we best serve our people’ as our motto, we’ll have a head-start in the race towards making the world a better place to work for all.
To those reading this, I’d like to end by paraphrasing Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote: “A community that works together is stronger.” As we enter 2022 and navigate the next era of the world of work, I’ll be right by your side. We’re in this together.