5 HR trends to watch in 2021

After a year of unparalleled changes, many HR teams are taking a step back and asking what exactly makes for a captivating employee experience in 2021 and beyond. There’s no doubt that policies need to be altered as we move into the new working world, but what exactly are the HR trends that are making waves in 2021, and that will shape the future of employee experience?

Employee and employer relationships have changed drastically over the past year – although in general, the dynamic was already beginning to move away from a hierarchal leadership, COVID-19 has accelerated this change to a more level way of working. Now, having mutual respect, inclusivity, flexibility and shared goals are critical components for a compelling workplace.

HR teams are the ones at the head of the change, helping to align the company’s culture, focus, and overall strategy. Recent Gartner research found that 64 per cent of leaders are now prioritizing employee experience more highly now than before the pandemic, and so in turn has risen to the top of HR’s agenda.

Digitally transforming your employee experience

It can be tricky to know where to begin when it comes to prioritising and improving employee experience. With remote working still in force, keeping employees engaged while working in a hybrid workspace can be challenging.

This is how digitalisation can help. 74 per cent of leaders are planning to increase their spending on HR technology to enhance their overall employee experience. Employee experience platforms (or EXPs) have emerged into the market to help HR teams access a broader array of communications and engagement challenges. As an evolution of the intranet, your EXP has all the tools, features, and systems needed to tackle the entire employee experience—from onboarding to reskilling to centralising benefits information.

The 6 HR trends making waves in 2021

With HR teams playing a pivotal role in ensuring the business is ready for the new world of working, there are several priorities teams should know in order to make the best impact.

  1. The next wave of workplace flexibility  

Remote working has been the hot topic of 2020, with many organisations having to adopt a more flexible way of working to accommodate the pandemic. But with the rise of remote working came a decline in employee presenteeism – employers learned that they didn’t need to see their teams in order to trust they were doing their jobs.

Because of this, there is a new world of flexible working on the horizon. Forward-thinking HR teams will be taking note of the positive impact remote and flexible working has had on the business, and should be putting the decision of whether flexible working should stay in the hands of employees.

  1. A focus on social issues

With a bigger focus on social issues becoming present in the last year, ensuring your business shares this sense of purpose with its employees has become a critical aspect. In fact, according to Gartner, three-quarters of employees now expect their employer to take a stance on current and spotlighted societal or cultural issues.

It’s not enough to just be vocal about these important issues. As well as issuing statements, enterprises need to action them and give employees the technology channels necessary to contribute to the on-going conversations they are passionate about.

  1. A time to bridge the skills gap

Recent research by Gartner found that 68 per cent of HR leaders’ biggest priority for 2021 is to build critical skills and competencies, as skill gaps continue to be an issue. There are different tactics HR leaders can take to fill in existing skill gaps, such as increasing hiring, offering higher pay for emerging and coveted skillsets, or contract hiring to access the skills their workforce need.

No matter the route HR teams take, it’s important that every employee has the same digital experience. Having a re-skilling hub can encourage existing employees to learn new skills, while also enabling contractors to have the same resources and information, bringing them into the fold.

  1. The importance of workplace trust

Having workplace trust is vital for business success, but according to research by Gartner, at present less than half of employees trust their company with their data, and only 44 per cent of them trust that their business’ leaders can manage a crisis well.

The biggest challenge for building trust is the rise in business technology that passively tracks and monitors employees. Unfortunately, the shift to remote working caused an influx in tracking software designed to help leaders keep an eye on employee productivity. This kind of technology can feel like a huge invasion of privacy for employees, causing them to feel untrusted and, in turn, resentment towards their employer.

HR teams should instead look towards technology that can improve employee performance, rather than monitor it – creating a culture that inspires and encourages top-tier work. Emphasise two-way messaging and transparency in HR comms in order to build the foundation for trust within the organisation.

  1. A spotlight on mental health 

Mental health and employee wellbeing has come into the spotlight over the past year, with Gartner finding that 68 per cent of organisations debuting at least one additional wellness benefit or support to help their employees throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now that the conversation around employee mental health and wellbeing has truly begun, employers should continue to push the boundaries and launch new and improved initiatives to support mental health. Being able to begin discussions about workplace stress, to giving mental health support days to workers that need them, putting a focus on decreasing burnout is a priority that enterprises should have high on their list.

As leaders look ahead to their next chapter, it will be the HR teams who own the return to work journey and build the foundation for a future-proof employee experience. HR leaders should be looking at the current trends and beginning to plan out a resilient strategy that fully supports the whole employee experience.





Joanne Skilton is the Chief Commercial Officer at Unily, and has expansive experience of working within the technology and business sector. Joanne rose up the ranks over a 25-year career, working most notably as Head of Commercial at Battersea Power Station Dev. Co. As Unily’s Chief Commercial Officer, Joanne oversees the company’s continued expansion and works to develop an understanding of what digital workplaces can deliver for businesses, using technology to drive a change