2021 was a challenging year for HR professionals as we navigated unprecedented times, made shifts to flexible work arrangements, and were faced with the task of keeping corporate culture alive in remote environments. Looking into 2022, we asked 4 HR leaders what we can expect to see as we start a new chapter in organizational history in a post-pandemic world, be it around corporate culture and rewards, unique benefits, working arrangements, or HR’s role in an organization. Here’s what the experts had to say:
HR’s navigated through the pandemic well, but mainly through sound-reactive, operational delivery. As life gets somewhat easier again, we need to shift to a more strategic focus. We need to be harnessing the more human way of working we have developed over the last two years and using that as a basis for organizational transformation and business success. Hybrid working is a good example – we’re doing it, but not in a particularly effective way. Generalized suggestions like “spending 3 days in the office and 2 days at home” show that we’re still not thinking deeply enough about the opportunities hybrid provides. We need to focus creatively on the potential benefits that better and different use of the office could provide, along with more effective use of the digital workplace, including more asynchronous work. This thinking also needs to be part of a broader reinterpretation of the ways we organize people and work. Organizations need to be vastly different in 2022 if they’re going to work successfully, and it’s down to HR to lead this change.
I think this one is pretty obvious - The “Great Resignation” had (and continues to have) a massive impact on HR, and businesses in general. This has forced HR leaders to take a long, hard look at their recruiting, onboarding and retention strategies, in an effort to attract and, more importantly, retain their top talent. Hiring demands and increased turnover have put pressure on businesses to lean into HR technology to support their hiring, retention, and engagement programs. In fact, HR leaders report maintaining or increasing their level of investment in HR tech in 2021 and 2022 to deal with these new challenges — I don’t see this trend slowing down anytime soon.
The last 2 years have proven to be more challenging than any of us had seen before. I believe the lack of talent available (fewer people than jobs available) will continue to drive employers to rethink pay, benefits, and training they're offering. The push/pull of returning to the office as conditions have improved will also be a challenge for many.
The war for talent is only going to increase until there's a realization that there never will be the ideal number of talented team members available and willing to join our organizations. As leaders, we can only 'win' this war, by no longer fighting for a scarce and finite resource. Instead, we can 'win' by producing and delivering our products and services differently — with a lean workforce, while continuously enhancing the 'workplace experience' (physical or remote). We need to redesign workflows so our team members are no longer doing the work of 2-3 team members using outdated processes, systems, and equipment.
HR’s are now seen as being more credible, but it’s still not that well recognized as a source of strategic success, as in the main, this isn’t what the last couple of years have been about. The transformation of organizations that is now required is going to provide this opportunity in spades. HR practitioners need to have an ambition and an agenda for their organizations that will guide this change. We may want to progress forward through an agile, incremental approach, but if we don’t have a vision of where we need to go, it’s much less likely that our organizations will ever get there. We also need the bravery and determination to promote this agenda, pushing back on tendencies to try to return to how things were, or broader attempts to re-establish a less human-centric way of working. It’s HR that has the route map to the future, and we need to stand up and explain to our counterparts in the rest of the business why they need to follow it.
Flexibility is critical to business success, more-so now than ever. When I say flexibility, that doesn’t mean mandating your employees to come into the office 2 days a week. How is that flexible work?! It’s not. Flexible work is all about meeting your people where they are, trusting them as adults and professionals to do the work that needs to get done and improvising based on their individual or personal situations. Consider the parents who had to juggle remote work while their kids were at home during the lockdown days of the pandemic (shoutout to the single parents who are the real MVPs here!). Businesses that supported their need for true, flexible work have proven themselves to be world-class, people-centric employers. I’d also like to add a second piece of advice, something that we’re seeing as a result of the increase in remote work. Gone are the days of offering office-related perks like ping pong tables, free coffee & beer and unlimited snacks. While these are nice to have, labelling these as “perks” will not make you a top tier employer. Employees want meaningful benefits, things that will help them propel their careers (and their lives!). Engage your people with learning and growth opportunities. Online training, manager coaching, mentorship programs, peer coaching, and stretch assignments are some of the many ways you can introduce skill advancement and learning opportunities in your organization.
As a profession we've had a lot put on us in the last 2 years and as things improve people will be asking for more. Whether it's listening to podcasts, reading, attending webinars or in-person events, carve out time for your own development and stick to it.
Talk with them. Listen to them. Find out what ideas they can bring to the table and what matters most to them in how they can most efficiently produce products and services. What benefits matter most and what SPECIFIC changes they want to see in your organization's culture and how you behave as a team to enable them to want to stay.
HR needs to change more this year than we probably ever have before. However, if I had to name one trend, I would look to the one remaining of HR that has not really changed much at all. And that’s reward. Recruitment, learning, internal communication and many other areas are all delivered very differently today than they were ten to fifteen years ago. Over the last five to ten years there’s been a huge focus on making performance management more modern and effective too. But other than the very positive increased focus on recognition, there’s been very little change in reward. Yet we know much of it does not work, does not resonate for people, and doesn’t help businesses perform. Organizations will do different things to link rewards more closely to their purpose and brand. However, there will be major shifts towards further improving fairness whilst increasing personalisation, combining individual with team and network-based pay, and sharing the gains from post-pandemic success rather than trying to manipulate people to perform.
HR leaders need to understand what really moves employees - how do we get employees to take action and participate in all the incredible HR initiatives we see organizations launching? A learning and development program is pretty useless if you only have a 15% employee participation rate. How can you meet employees where they are, and get your message across in a way that’s personalized and tailored to their unique needs and goals? How can you deliver your content and policies in a bite-sized, easily digestible format? Marketers have been using segmentation, personas, and personalization for years. I think we’ll see HR following in their footsteps, and leveraging technology to deliver their messaging and content in a way that clearly answers the question, “What’s in it for me?”, rather than “How does this affect the business?”.
Revamped benefits packages and offerings, tangible movement on DEI initiatives, redesigned organizational structures and position responsibilities and behavioural expectations.
Based on these experts' answers, we can expect to see a year of significant change in the world of HR on both tactical and strategic levels. From offering personalized rewards, investing in HR technology, exploring the possibilities of asynchronous work, and finding meaningful benefits that enhance not only the careers but the lives of employees, this year brings another opportunity to take charge as a key business function and find new ways to fully support our greatest asset, our people.