Last spring, many of the predictions for the upcoming year were centered around the “new normal.” With the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine getting underway, the end of the pandemic seemed to be in sight. In the wake of the social and political unrest that followed the murder of George Floyd, business leaders promised to help ease that unrest by making diversity, equity, and inclusion top priorities for 2021.
Unfortunately, the vaccine did not bring a quick end to the pandemic as everyone had hoped. Nor has the social and political unrest subsided. Instead, the business outlook was further complicated by the rise of hybrid work and the phenomenon that’s become known as the Great Resignation, both of which will persist in 2022 as employees who are done with “business as usual” (e.g., burnout, meager benefits, unappreciative bosses) demand more flexibility and more equitable and empathetic treatment from their employers.
Rather than a return to some kind of “normal,” 2021 turned out to be “the year of transition”1 to whatever comes next. But what will 2022 bring? Based on an extensive survey of executives and an analysis of data collected from thousands of workers around the world, here are five key trends that will influence the workplace in 2022 (and beyond).
Reimagining culture for hybrid work is essential.
The sudden shift to remote work at the start of the pandemic quickly proved that employees could be productive working outside the office. Although remote work offers a plethora of benefits, most organizations (and many employees) are not quite ready to let go of the office completely. Therefore, many companies are turning to a hybrid work model that blends in-office work and remote work.
For hybrid work to truly become part of the “new normal,” however, business leaders must be cognizant of how this shift will affect organizational culture. Steve Pemberton of Workhuman explains, “As the majority of organizations continue to operate in a hybrid environment, business leaders will need to continue investing time, resources, and effort in programs that help build and maintain company culture and that help humans stay connected, productive, and engaged.”2
Internal mobility and boomerang employees will become the norm.
For employees and employers alike, the Great Resignation has created both opportunities and challenges. Employers have watched turnover levels spike, leaving holes in their organizational structures and damaging their bottom lines.
To break this high-cost cycle, organizations should start looking inward in 2022: rather than fill vacated roles through external hires, they should focus on internal mobility and provide current employees with the training and skills needed to move into more senior roles. Just as retaining customers is easier (and cheaper) than replacing them, the same can be said for talent.
In general, employees have weathered the Great Resignation better than organizations have, with most workers seeing it as a positive change in the workplace. But some workers who left their employers in search of something better are beginning to realize the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Because of this, 2022 will likely see an increase in “boomerang employees” — past employees who return to a company after some time (months or even years) away. Whether those employees left to pursue a new opportunity elsewhere, to care for a sick family member, or for some other reason, the experience they gained during their absence and their prior connection to the organization will benefit both them and their employers.
Recruitment must adapt to the new world of work.
It’s clear that old methods of recruitment no longer suffice. Whether or not the Great Resignation continues, employees are likely to have the upper hand over organizations for some time. Workers want to feel valued by their employers, which means they will no longer acquiesce to going through ten rounds of interviews for a position with meager benefits at a company with no workplace culture.
And although salary will continue to be an important factor, it certainly won’t be the only thing candidates take into consideration when evaluating job opportunities. Company culture, employee experience, corporate social responsibility, and flexibility are becoming more important than ever, and potential employees will no longer settle for any less.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts remain a top priority.
Discrimination based on race, gender, and identity has long been part of the workplace, and in the past many organizations chose not to take a stand against it. After racial violence dominated the headlines across the country in 2020, however, corporations could no longer avoid addressing these issues, and 2021 became the year in which they publicly committed to supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. But have companies been following through on those promises?
Results are mixed: some may have made progress in these areas, but many others have not — even though 66 percent of respondents to one survey indicated that how their organizations approached DE&I affect “their feelings about how long they plan to stay in their position.”3 For organizations that don’t want to risk losing two-thirds of their staff, DE&I is no longer a “nice to have” but is now a “must have.” Whether or not changes were made last year, this will be the year words must turn into actions.
Organizations must care for their people — and for the community.
It’s human nature for people to want to be valued and recognized for the work they do. In 2022, employees are more eager than ever to have this appreciation. Organizations looking to prevent more turnover need to build a culture of authentic gratitude to which employees will want to belong. Valuing employees has nothing to do with swag bags and pizza parties and everything to do with ensuring that employees have what they need to do their best work.
The pandemic has highlighted the importance of mental well-being in employees’ professional lives and in their personal lives. Companies will be expected to step up their mental health support in 2022.
Corporate social responsibility is another issue that has become increasingly important to workers (and consumers) in recent years. In one survey, 88 percent of respondents indicated that they felt “it is no longer acceptable for companies just to make money; companies must positively impact society as well.”4 With Millennials and the members of Generation Z — two generations that are loudly calling for corporations to do their part to better the world — on track to make up the majority of the workforce soon, this push for increased corporate responsibility will likely persist long after 2022.
Each of these five trends has the potential to transform work in ways that benefit everyone involved. As the business world eases in 2022, organizations, leaders, and employees must be prepared to take action in these areas, which will help shape the business landscape over the next year — and beyond.
1Kevin Sneader and Shubham Singhal. 2021. “The Next Normal Arrives: Trends that Will Define 2021-and Beyond.” O.C. Tanner website, KcKinsey website, January 4, www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/leadership/the-next-normal-arrives-trends-that-will-define-2021-and-beyond. .
3Sarah Bloznalis. 2021. “Human Workplace Index: Getting Real with DE&I.” Workhuman blog, October 8 www.workhuman.com/resources/globoforce-blog/human-workplace-index-getting-real-with-de-i..
4Porter Novelli. 2020. “PN Purpose Tracker: Employee Perspectives on Responsible Leadership During Crisis.” Porter Novelli website, www.porternovelli.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/02_Porter-Novelli-Tracker-Wave-X-Employee-Perspectives-on-Responsible-Leadership-During-Crisis.pdf..