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[UPDATE] Looking into the HR Crystal Ball: 2021 Predictions from Blue Rock Search

We’re well past the midpoint of 2021, and it’s time to take a look back at some of our top predictions for the year that we made in our January Crystal Ball blog post. What did we get right, and what’s still to come?


1. COVID Complications Continue

Increased vaccination availability hasn’t been able to totally crush COVID. Two major factors have been playing a part in this: continued vaccine hesitancy, particularly in certain regions and among certain groups, and the rise of the more-transmissible delta variant. As a result, the big “return” of 2021 has been more uneven and still complicated.


According to a June 2021 survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation, workers who report their employer either encouraged vaccination, gave time off specifically to get vaccinated and recover from side effects, or both are more likely to report being vaccinated, even after controlling for other demographics. This seems to suggest that more employers acting similarly could help improve vaccination rates among U.S. workers and move towards more normalcy.


2. Employees Want to Know, “Why Do I Have to Come Back to the Office?”

The pandemic forced a large-scale work-from-home experiment, and the results, for many workers, have led to a desire for a permanent shift. Forbes reported one survey, published in May 2021, that revealed 64% of workers at major companies (including giants like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Goldman Sachs, and more) would prefer a permanent work-from-home arrangement over a $30,000 raise.


3. The Economy Improves, Causing Employers to Be Hit with a Flurry of Resignations

According to one analysis from June, worker availability is half of the average from the past two decades. Previously, there have been an average of 2.8 available workers for every job opening, but that number now has fallen to just 1.4. It’s part of an ongoing trend of workers being more selective in accepting new jobs or staying in current ones.


In a new report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, workers revealed the biggest incentives that would convince them to take new jobs. 39% said a signing bonus of $1,000 would incentivize them to return to full-time employment. Flexibility for remote or work-from-home arrangements (32%) and a five percent pay increase from their last similar job (24%) were the next most popular responses.


4. The Challenges of Compensation in a “Work Anywhere” World

The rise of remote work has opened up another challenge: how to fairly and accurately compensate workers who are scattered among locations with different costs of living. According to a WorldAtWork survey from early 2021, 67% of surveyed U.S. workers expect their compensation to reflect their location, and 50% of employees said that a pay adjustment would be very or extremely influential in their decision to voluntarily relocate.


On the company’s side of things, the same survey noted that the more locations an organization has, the more likely they are to consider creating a U.S. geographic pay policy. 41% of organizations currently deal with pay differentials as a premium or a discount to either structure or individual pay, while 33% actually create separate base pay structures for different geographic locations. Continuing to address this will require ongoing and nuanced discussion, and HR should be involved every step of the way.


8. Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion is a Strategic Imperative in 2021

DE&I continues to be a priority for highly-sought candidates and for many companies, but obstacles still remain. In 2021, it does seem that plenty of companies have chosen to put their diversity and inclusion efforts front and center, responding to the concerns of the workforce and their communities overall.


According to the Harvard Business Review, over 1,600 CEOs have signed onto the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion Pledge, and 40% of companies discussed diversity and inclusion in their Q2 2020 earnings calls – a 10x increase from only 4% holding those discussions in the same quarter the previous year. Additionally, a Gartner study reveals that the number of HR leaders identifying DEI efforts as a top priority was 1.8 times higher in 2020 than in 2019. The challenge remains: how to measure these efforts and their success or lack thereof?

9. Be Ready for Employees who Speak Out About Societal Injustice

In March 2021, Forbes reported on a Gartner survey that revealed that 68% of employees would consider quitting their current job and working instead with an organization with a stronger viewpoint on the social issues that matter most to them. Employees are more vocal than ever about their views on social injustices, and they’re increasingly expecting their companies to take a stance too.


Achieving those goals requires a strong commitment to truly understanding bias (both conscious and unconscious), making deliberate strides to improve, and promoting a culture that celebrates differences and promotes respect – not just politeness, but genuine respect.


by Ruben Moreno

About the Author

After a 25-year career in Corporate Human Resources and HR Executive Search, Ruben Moreno and his two partners co-founded Blue Rock Search based on a simple but ambitious vision of creating a firm that would “Change Lives and Organizations One Relationship at a Time.”  Ruben leads the Blue Rock HR Executive Search practice specializing in the identification, assessment, recruitment, and onboarding of Chief HR Officers and Chief Diversity Officers and their respective teams — inclusive of leaders in Talent Acquisition, Total Rewards, HRBP’s, Learning & OD, HR Technology, HR Operations, and HR Analytics. Ruben has helped place hundreds of HR Executives and built deep relationships within the CHRO community across multiple industry verticals. His clients consider him a trusted partner who takes the time to understand their business and add value beyond executive search.

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