2020 was the year of crisis response, change management, and uncertainty, as HR teams and organisations faced challenges to adapt and, in some cases, even ensure their business survived.
This was reflected in CIPD HR Practices survey with data taken at the end of 2020. Many respondents indicated they used the Government backed employment wage subsidy scheme, 43% implemented a hiring freeze, 38% introduced redundancies, 36% had layoffs and 19% introduced pay cuts. Unsurprisingly, responding to Covid-19 and dealing with economic uncertainty were identified as top priorities in their research.
However, 2021 was arguably even more complex as the effects of the pandemic became longer term, and priorities such as hybrid working, employee mental health, and battling the great resignation were all added into the mix.
So, let’s take a look ahead to 2022, and how HR teams and organisations can prepare themselves for the challenges and opportunities that next year will bring.
Changing role of HR
“Last year provided an excellent opportunity for HR to redefine itself and become front and centre in ensuring employee responsiveness in a way that positively impacts morale, engagement, service levels and company performance.” Crystal Williams, Forbes, Redefining the role of HR in 2021, March 2021
We opened with this quote not just to start with a positive spin on what’s been a tough period for the profession, but to put into context the very tangible changing role of HR. While the past 18 months or so have been defined by challenges faced by HR teams and organisations all around the globe, it’s important to note the opportunities that pandemic has presented to the HR function.
Historically, many people viewed HR as the personnel department, focusing largely on administrative and operational tasks, along with ‘hiring & firing.’ However, as we all know, this has not been the case for quite some time now. If we can take one leading positive from the pandemic, it’s that HR almost certainly now has a seat at the table, across almost all organisations.
As we walk through some of the particular trends & tips in this article, it’s evident that HR has played a part in many of the key organisational strategies and projects this year, from change management to flexible working, from wellbeing to recruitment. And 2022 will be no different.
Our first takeaway – take a moment to reflect on your HR team’s successes from 2021, and use them not just to plan for 2022, but to showcase the role your team has played in keeping your organisation afloat through a stormy 2020/21.
Remote working / new work models
One of the leading trends over the course of 2021 has, of course, been remote working. We saw through the course of 2020 and 2021 that the shift to remote working was rapid. In early 2020, businesses who were in a position to offer remote working pivoted quickly, with huge numbers of Irish employees making the switch to remote. By mid 2020, Ireland had one of the highest rates of WFH in Europe, with over 40% by comparison with an EU average of 33.7%.
As mentioned on our recent podcast with John Lee, (Co-Founder of the Work From Anywhere team and leading remote working analyst), Gartner research from June this year predicts that in 2022, 31% of all workers worldwide will be remote (a mix of hybrid and fully remote). This is supported by local research here in Ireland, as a study by NUI Galway in summer of 2021 found that more than 95 per cent of working people in Ireland want to continue with some form of remote employment once the coronavirus pandemic ends.
If 2020 was the test case for remote working, and 2021 was the year to develop & optimise, then 2022 is looking like the year that it finally becomes a strategy that business who are in a position to, simply must incorporate. Our takeaway – assess the feasibility, listen to your employee base, and implement a strategy where possible.
Although there have been many opportunities and positives to take from 2021, it would be wrong to ignore the challenges that the pandemic has also brought. From substantial layoffs in 2020 to issues with mandated policies in 2021, tackling workplace conflict has been a key task for HR teams in many organisations.
Although many organisations faced losses out of their control, conflict around redundancies and even unfair dismissals was apparent during the pandemic. For context, numbers at work in Ireland were 5% lower (116.6k fewer at work) in the first Q1 of 2021 than a year earlier – a large upheaval.
Despite the research showing a positive uptake for remote working, conflict also arose in this area from employees who were dissatisfied with work models, and those who became disengaged.
And as reported here recently, the onset of division between vaccinated and unvaccinated employees has also been an unfortunate development. As reported by the Irish Times in June, businesses are being caught in the middle between staff who are refusing to be vaccinated against Covid-19 and others who are refusing to work alongside those who have not received a vaccine. With vaccine mandates being spoken about for 2022, the issue of workplace conflict is unfortunately not going anywhere.
Our takeaway – ensure your approach to any challenge or conflict is fair, well-informed, and people-centric. Check out our workplace conflict resource section for further guidance.
A key concern for many companies who made the switch to remote working, was the issue of performance management in a hybrid world, with many leaders anxious about how to effectively manage their staff remotely. For HR teams, this posed a challenge in ensuring the correct balance between effective management and employee experience.
As reported by PwC recently, the shift to remote and hybrid working has actually led to a rise in productivity. Their ‘Future of Work’ survey, which included responses from 4,000 businesses across 26 countries, found that only 4% of organisations reported lower levels of productivity over the past 12 months. However, the key finding from this survey was that 74% of organisations are not fully confident that their typical employee’s workload is manageable, leading to a high risk of employee burnout.
Concerns around effective communication, technology, skills all contribute to this ongoing challenge for which there seems to be no clear answer. Our takeaway – stay close, stay connected and build genuine trust as a key foundation to the relationships you have with employees. Show empathy, support, and back it up with positive action around communication and wellbeing. Read more here.
Building on our most recent point, the topic of employee wellbeing and mental health has really come to the fore in recent months, as companies and employees find it increasingly difficult to find that balance of performance and productivity in a disconnected and potentially isolated environment for employees.
Despite positive indications of organisational intentions around employee wellbeing (CIPD HR Practices Survey), the reality of the challenge facing HR teams was deeply apparent this year. As reported by the Irish Examiner in November, more than half of full-time workers in Ireland are experiencing burnout. This is supported by a recent Laya survey, which found that 46% of referrals to occupational health are currently for mental health reasons.
So what does this mean for 2022? In that same report by Laya, a key indicator of where HR’s focus should lie next year can be found in this finding – one in three people aged between 18 and 34 are more likely to move to an employer that provides mental health resources. Couple this with the movement in the jobs market, and our takeaway tip is clear – ensure you provide a safe place of work, ensure that ways of working do not place undue stress on employees, and open the lines of communication. For more information check out our recent mental health webinar on demand here.
Diversity & inclusion
Despite much progress made across all facets of diversity and inclusion, there is still so much more to do. A recent report by the Irish Times revealed that the pandemic may erode years of progress for women, LGBTQ+, and those with disability. For 2022, this simply must be an agenda item for HR teams, who can lead the way in making up for this lost ground.
Going far beyond the legal foundations and the ‘right thing to do’, it is widely reported that companies who embrace diversity and inclusion in all aspects of their business statistically outperform their peers, through innovation, effective culture, and much more.
If you’re having trouble developing an effective D&I strategy in your organisation, the good news is, help is out there.
Our takeaway – start small by researching things like Business in the Community’s Elevate Pledge, taking guidance from the Irish Centre for Diversity framework, or even by taking some time to complete the CIPD’s Inclusion Health Checker tool. From there, set-up a cross-functional working group to drive your D&I agenda and assess the situation across every part of your business, ensuring that your D&I strategy is effective and fit-for purpose. Watch our recent diversity & inclusion webinar on demand here.
Gender Pay Gap Reporting
On 13 July 2021, the Irish government introduced gender pay gap reporting as a legal requirement in Ireland. This act will require employers to report on the pay differences between female and male employees, including any bonuses. Ireland’s gender pay gap currently stands at 11.3%, down from the 2017 figure of 14.4%. Although it is being rolled out on a phased basis (dependent on company size), getting up to speed on gender pay gap reporting is in the best interests of all HR teams and organisations across Ireland.
We’ve already seen positive progress, most recently reported in the case of An Post, who have become one of the first big companies in Ireland to eliminate its gender pay gap. Over the past two years, the company has reduced the gap from 3.7% to effectively 0%.
Although the specifics of manner, frequency and form of reporting are yet to be clarified, our takeaway is to get a head start and begin analysing the gender pay gap in your organisation today. Check out this resource section from Mazars, to take the first steps.
Skills & capabilities
As reported by Simon Haines, CEO of Simply Get Results, in their Winning Skills Advantage Report, HR teams and their wider organisations have faced a ‘double disruption’ of the pandemic alongside exponential technology adoption.
This period of change that the pandemic has brought, along with the advancements in tools and technology in HR and L&D, means that many HR teams are facing a skills crisis as they not only adapt to change, but also seek to effectively upskill their employees with the best available tools.
Our takeaway – ask your team and organisations the right questions before upskilling or tackling L&D. Carefully analyse current capabilities, identify the high priority skills gaps, and ensure you pick the technology/software that is fit for your specific needs. Check out our recent podcasts with Simon Haines and Chris Elliott or our HR skills development resources for further guidance.
Compensation and benefits
4 day week, no meetings at lunchtime, mental health days, day-care days. This year, we saw a lot of new benefits and incentives introduced to support, engage and attract staff during the pandemic. While these benefits were a welcome addition to many organisations’ compensation and benefits package, many employees are left wondering are these temporary or permanent? Similarly, employers are left wondering how to implement a new suite of benefits to attract and retain staff, while still feeling the operational and financial effects of a challenging year.
Our takeaway – look at your own organisation and employees’ needs and wants, rather than focusing solely on what the external market is offering. Listen to the employee voice and take a holistic approach to benefits on offer. For instance, if a large percentage of your workforce are young parents, consider childcare supports. If your employees are struggling with productivity, consider downtime or mental health days. Or are your employees looking for incentives and bonuses? Again, develop policies and strategies that are fit-for-purpose.
The war for talent
And last but not least, let’s take a closer look at the great resignation, and the war for talent. The term ‘the great resignation’ has been widely used this year, and on our recent podcast with Donal O’ Donoghue, President of the newly-branded Employment & Recruitment Federation, Donal discussed the effect of pent-up demand from those employees who decided to ‘hang tight’ in 2020 and finally move on in 2021.
Whatever the cause of this movement, the research highlighted a huge surge in the labour market. As reported by Sigmar Recruitment, there was a record-high number of job placements for July to September, up 44% on the same period in 2020 and up 20% on 2019 figures for that period.
In this period of change and crisis, many employees all across Ireland and beyond, took time to reflect on their values, and the values of the organisations they worked for. Considerations like flexibility, location, wellbeing supports and company culture became even more important, with huge numbers of employees making the moves to organisations who’s offering was more aligned to their preferences.
Our takeaway – in 2022, don’t focus solely on attracting talent, focus on retaining talent too. Ensure your employer brand truly reflects your company culture and make sure your candidate experience is quick & easy. But always balance this with your internal culture. You may see a pattern appearing – listen to the employee voice and create a space your employees feel motivated, feel valued, and feel like they want to stay!
What do you think will be the biggest HR priority for 2022? Vote in our LinkedIn poll here, and share your thoughts with us in the comments!