16 March 2021

What does 2021 hold for HR & payroll professionals?

three desk calendars showing the months of jan, feb and march 2021

At the end of last year, I shared my predictions for 2021 and what people HR and payroll professionals needed to be prioritising. What I didn’t envisage was another lockdown, so I thought it would be a good idea to review my predictions for how the HR agenda might change, with these changes in mind.

Here’s a quick summary of those initial predictions:

  1. Working with different thoughts about culture and engagement is not something that will be outside of the norm
  2. Whereas people might have gone out of their way to try and tick a box for employee engagement and culture in the past, in 2021 and beyond it will be the norm
  3. Engagement will be the reason that people get out of bed to lead teams rather than a side excursion
  4. Culture, engagement, motivation, and an agile workforce will be the focus of future courses for MBAs and CIPD

The main point I take from these is that employee engagement will be a central tenet of work in the future. Given the announcement of a new lockdown from the UK Government on 4 January 2021, I have provided a review of employee engagement under the extended lockdown and beyond, what has changed since I made my predictions and predictions for the rest of 2021.

Lockdown 3.0

The extended lockdown has now caused people to look more closely at engagement and how businesses are going to survive through the medium term, rather than the expected short term that people hoped the new year would deliver. Although the government has published its latest roadmap to ease lockdown, some commentators are speculating that many restrictions will be in place for up to two years.  However high your level of optimism is about returning to a new kind of normal, people still need to prepare for more disruption.  Some businesses have continued to rely on old technology that doesn’t have the functions they require to drive engagement and keep their people aligned to their outcomes.  Clearly, this is not sustainable as the belief that Covid-19 restrictions were just short-term has now bled into the medium-term. 

What’s changed?

The CIPD has recently published a report on employee engagement which is worth reading. This examines what employee engagement means but also looks at other work-related items such as absenteeism, wellbeing, attitudes to organisational change, and turnover.  The report also highlights motivational theories that are now considered to be outdated as they are subsumed into other theories. Measurement of employee engagement remains a challenge and some options are discussed including three versions of the Utrecht Work Engagement Scale.

In the HR and payroll technology industry, news of mergers and acquisitions continues unabated and the most recent notable acquisition was Workday’s annexation of Peakon to provide a stronger employee engagement offering.  This is proof that big tech companies are willing to invest $700M in adding remote working tools and employee engagement to their core offering.  Crucially, they’re not prepared to build it and wait while this is done, they want the availability of this tech now.

According to Gallup, 75% of millennials are engaged at work which is a staggering rise from the previous year’s assessment of 35%.  This is driven by remote work and the role that managers play in keeping people aware of information at work.  The other key feature of this sharp rise is the expected constant flow of communication between a manager and their people. 

There is now a proliferation of courses for employee engagement from a wide variety of providers. MOOCs such as Coventry University's Employee Engagement and Motivation: An Introduction has over 3000 people registered on their course.  Not only does this highlight the customer base for engagement courses, but also the proliferation of online learning that has also taken leaps forward because of increased remote working.  Together with other online learning providers (Udemy has 33 courses with around 2000 students), the thirst for modern employee engagement theory and practical solutions remains a source of opportunity for training providers.

Predictions for the remainder of 2021

Induction is the key to success for the rest of 2021. During last year's MHR Summit, I also discussed induction and the need for HR teams to review their company induction programme.  This remains closely aligned to employee engagement as businesses should seek to provide a seamless segway into the team.  The challenge that extended remote working has caused is that businesses now need to take action to deliver a great online induction experience.  If they were hoping that a sticking plaster would suffice until people return to the office in the new year, they now need to review their plan and play catch-up. 

Leadership teams should be reviewing their induction process now.  When people do return to the office, regardless of how long they have been with the company, everyone will require a re-induction to office life.  Many of the Covid19 measures put in place to enable a return to work will be with us for months and maybe into 2022.  Businesses should consider how they will achieve re-induction for everyone.  Just as employee engagement has seen a seismic rise in importance in recent times, induction will become the next area of focus for HR teams around the globe.  Failure to take this seriously will mean people will try to revert to previous behaviours and an opportunity to set the future culture will have been missed.

Employee engagement remains a focus and is not a short-term fix.  This may have been a lower priority for businesses prior to Covid19 as many believed that engagement was achieved by people being present in an office.  Businesses need to put in place a long-term solution to employee engagement to support the changing workforce.  This needs to be 24/7 and technology-driven.

The future

At MHR we have an HR software platform, People First, which can deliver both your employee engagement solution and also supports inductions for new and existing people.  This is built in the cloud which means your people can access the platform through any device, 24/7.  If you also want to drive out better automation and free up your HR team for more value-adding tasks, we also have People First Payroll which is part of our overall suite. 

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Andy Davies

As an expert in human resources and a member of the CIPD, Andy is now responsible for developing the implementation strategy for People First partners. Passionate about the future of HR, employee engagement and performance management, Andy often writes and offers best practice advice on the need for archaic HR practices to evolve in order for organisations to stay relevant within the ever-changing world of work

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