How & Why HR Will Remain an Essential Change-Driver in 2021

Feb 16, 2021

HR departments became unforeseen conduits of dramatic workplace transformations and migrations in 2020. And while change-driver has rarely been the typical role of most HR organizations in years (and decades) past, it is clear we have entered a new era. As we push further into 2021, HR and talent acquisition teams are already playing starring roles in much-anticipated changes, such as coordinating re-hiring and recruiting efforts to build up downsized workforces. At the same time, they are also being asked to manage complex and novel people-centric challenges, such as vaccination policy creation and rollouts.

While it has never been a more dynamic time to be in HR, the exhilaration and pace of change can be overwhelming in scope and novelty. To help HR leaders and teams stay one step ahead of transformation, Employment Enterprises has created this summary of four key areas where HR can and should remain a strategic change-driver in the year ahead as well as tips for keeping pace as the marketplace pushes for more transformation.

Vaccines & Workforce Policies

Employers who spent 2020 reshaping workplaces and workforces to protect their employees now have the new phase of the COVID-19 challenge to manage in 2021: the vaccine rollout. While the vaccine brings lots of hope for a return to greater normalcy in the workplace and in daily life, it also brings up unprecedented questions about returning to work and what should be encouraged or required.

As organizations consider how to bring back employees, customers and visitors, the vaccine raises plenty of questions: Will the vaccine be a suggestion or a requirement for employees who want to return to company workspaces? Can/should businesses require workers to take the vaccine? If it is a guideline, will there be exceptions? These are the questions business leaders are asking their HR teams to help answer and codify into policies that will support the return to workplaces.

HR teams tasked with creating and coordinating vaccination policies have a lot to learn and coordinate in a terribly short amount of time. From having a clear, current understanding of state and local vaccination plans to learning how senior leaders want to structure company rules related to vaccines, this is a job that will require fast, strategic information gathering and sharing. One valuable place to start is SHRM (Society of Human Resource Managers), which published this list of resourceful articles and guides to help HR teams thoughtfully and efficiently build vaccination policies and resource guides. Also, workforce partners like Employment Enterprises, Inc. are working in real-time to help businesses and communities address vaccine challenges and needs. HR teams can leverage these partners to gather information and build communication tools and policies to support workers through the vaccination rollout and resulting workplace changes.

The Hybrid Workforce

Remote employees remain a substantial portion of the workforce for a large number of businesses. Why? Primarily, because it worked. A recent PwC survey found that 83% of U.S. businesses feel the shift to remote work was a success for them. Secondly, because workers have seen the benefits and appreciate the safety. Slack’s Future form found that 72% of workers worldwide want a combination of office and remote work going forward. For businesses, it means maintaining a more complex workforce that will require most HR teams to rethink and restructure the employment life cycle in terms of three tracks: onsite, hybrid, and remote.

The 2021 work of HR will start with assessing remote recruiting, onboarding, and training that was quickly created as a stopgap measure in 2020 and determining what is working and what needs to improve. Across the Employment Enterprises ecosystem of employers and partners, we are seeing several companies working to address accessibility changes between onsite, remote, and hybrid talent. One recent example from a manufacturing client encapsulated this challenge. A worker complaint about a safety issue on the manufacturing line took several days, rather than minutes or hours, to address. Why the delay? The HR team member responsible for addressing safety complaints was remote. The employee had to send an email because the HR rep could not be reached by phone. This delay in communication puts the employee and the company at unnecessary risk. To avoid these risks and to ensure effective collaboration and communication across all talent groups, HR will need to take a bold role in structuring rules of engagement among onsite, remote, and hybrid teams. And that is just one example of the numerous areas of hybrid workforce management HR will need to help shape and optimize in the year ahead.

Taking DEI to the Next Level

Many businesses increased their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) commitment, programs and efforts in 2020 in the wake of the widespread racial injustice movement. Employees, prospects, clients, and candidates will be watching to see how businesses move forward with those plans in 2021.

For HR, that means ensuring programs and commitments are widely communicated and accessible across the workforce. As much as the big, sweeping DEI programs will be important to establish and manage, HR can also play a key role in DEI by focusing on fundamentals. Inclusion, for example, is the effort to get diverse voices into the room and included in the decision-making processes. How is HR including diverse voices in its areas of influence, such as culture building, employment policies, conflict resolution, training, etc.? To be a change agent in DEI, HR needs to foster DEI programs and embrace DEI values in the people-centric work it does.

The Return of Turnover

The pandemic kept employees in place for the last year, but HR, talent acquisition leaders, and managers should not expect last year’s little-to-no turnover rates to remain. With half of U.S. states increasing the minimum wage in 2021 and employers starting to rehire and strengthening their barebones workforces, competition for talent is increasing. While many businesses were able to take a pause from recruitment and hiring pushes, those days are quickly coming to an end.

While HR and talent acquisition teams need to be ready to support new hiring surges, they will also want to work on retention. Decades in the talent industry have taught our teams at Employment Enterprises that workers rarely leave because of HR issues. They leave when employment issues are handled poorly, and they stay when they are handled effectively and with compassion. After a year like 2020, when many best practices fell to the wayside to deal with an unprecedented crisis, HR needs to take time to regroup and refocus on people in smart ways. How can HR think differently when it comes to improving engagement, accelerating responsiveness to employee issues, and increasing ways for all employees (onsite, remote and hybrid) to embrace the company culture, values, and opportunities?

Hello New HR!

What 2020 proved and 2021 will confirm is that HR’s role can never again be a static one. No longer the unchanging gatekeeper of people files and rules, HR will need to keep evolving alongside the people, culture, and strategy of the business. The challenges and opportunities will vary, but change is constant. That is the new mindset for HR.

Written by: Employment Enterprises

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