If there's one major takeaway we've gotten from 2020, it's that we should always expect the unexpected and, at the same time, always be open and adaptable to change - no matter how rapidly it hits you. That said, with these changes, come new trends to look out for in the year ahead.
In line with this, recent findings by ADP have revealed five key trends that will be shaping the workforce in 2021, as summarised below.
Trend #1: Focus on resilience and safety
In 2021, employers will prioritise the needs of their workers and take steps to ensure a safe return to the workplace, by putting protocols in place to limit potential exposure. In tandem, employees will be looking for support to help them adapt and grow amid changing working conditions.
Of the employers surveyed at the onset of the pandemic in 2021, close to four in 10 (39%) revealed that their employees' health fears were a top concern; while more than 40% of employees surveyed reported increasing levels of personal stress, in the midst of juggling work needs, childcare constraints, and fears towards the COVID-19 outbreak.
At the same time, employers' calls for guidance on wellness issues, including benefits, paid time off and employee assistance programmes, were found to have increased by 40% year over the year.
That said, these challenges are, on the bright side, making employees more resilient. According to ADP Research Institute, research involving more than 2,6000 employees globally in the later months of 2020 has shown better resilience in the workplace. In fact, in a separate study, employees surveyed noted that the more disruption they experienced at the workplace, the more resilient they felt, and were up to 13.2 times more likely to be "highly resilient."
Similarly, a significant number (37.3%) continued to work as per normal during the pandemic, and 26% had already returned to work after the global shutdown.
- A top-of-mind concern for the employees studied was safety
- Some had returned to work; others anticipated their return in a couple of weeks and others said it might be months to feel safe again.
- 15% of employees expressed that they will feel safe when their government tells them it is safe to return.
- 7% of the sample stated that they may never feel safe returning to work.
Trend #2: Drive for diversity
Employees will increasingly demand greater action from employers in advancing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) within the workforce, and continue to pay close attention to culture and social responsibility. In response, businesses will seek guidance from their partners on helping identify opportunities and establish a plan for progress and ongoing transparency.
- In 2020, employers increasingly sought data insights on the racial and cultural demographics of their workforce accounting for a 74% increase in searches.
- Employers increased searches for gender-based demographics by 42%.
- With greater data transparency comes accountability. DiversityInc has seen an uptick in the number of businesses seeking partners to close the gaps in their workforce. There has been a noted increase in requests for DEI consulting, content support and training support.
Trend #3: Fuel for flexibility
A drastic and rapid move to formalise remote work suggests potential permanence as the modern workforce navigates forward and increasingly looks for dynamic solutions to support the new way work gets done.
In a study, the ADP Research Institute found that 44% of employers now have official flexible working policies in place, up from 24% pre-COVID-19. The study also revealed that a majority of workers (65%) are upbeat about the flexibility of opportunities they will have in the future.
Interestingly, a significant increase in employers' call for guidance on both flexible work and pay options was recorded, at 116% in the past year.
Trend #4: Spotlight on compliance
As the regulatory environment becomes more complex and new legislative changes are introduced, businesses will look for ways to streamline compliance-related tasks to alleviate the burden on HR and payroll departments while leveraging aid.
- Among over 1,000 employers surveyed, 68% said they needed guidance on government relief programmes including direct monetary assistance, low interest business loans, enhanced unemployment assistance and tax relief and deferral.
- In fact, the study further noted a 1,500% jump in employers seeking guidance on compliance.
Trend #5: Agility in action
To drive true transformation in 2021, businesses are expected to focus in on their people and access to technology.
When employers were surveyed at the start of the pandemic, many had revealed a top concern to be about keeping their business running, while supporting their employees and their clients. Of these, 78% reported that it will take six months or longer for their revenue to return to pre-COVID-19 levels.
Apart from the above, an additional study involving small-and-medium businesses and enterprises revealed that half of small businesses and 84% of larger businesses are making adjustments to their business model. The most significant shift is seen in the way they are delivering their products or services to market. Despite these challenges, 84% of employees remain optimistic about the next five years in the workplace (down from 86% pre-pandemic), and 75% who feel "buoyant" about the year ahead.
- Through it all, small businesses have demonstrated agility in their response to the pandemic, evidenced by recent rehiring gains, the study revealed. At the onset of the pandemic as they navigated closures and restrictions, year-on-year declines in employment at small business clients were in the high range, a number that has since improved to declines of single digits.
- Employees themselves are taking agility to the next level with new business formations up significantly year-on-year.
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