Employee Experience

5 big bets HR will go all-in on in 2021

Based on employee trends, here are five areas of employee experience we think HR will go all-in on this year.

What will reshape the landscape of HR in the year ahead? That’s the question we’ve been asking ourselves – and, well, lots of other people, too – in an effort to anticipate where employee experience is headed.

At the end of 2020, my colleagues and I forecasted our anticipated challenges and opportunities for the year ahead. We also spoke to more than 11,800 participants as part of a global study to understand what matters to people most. Not only did we discover what’s changed in employee experience, but we uncovered key drivers of employee engagement in a new world of work.

Based on these predictions and trends, we’ve distilled five big bets for 2021: aspects of employee experience we expect HR to double down on this year.

1. Doubling down on diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts

2020 saw renewed calls for social and racial justice that reignited organizations’ efforts for dismantling systemic bias along the employee journey. In 2021, HR will play a continued role in supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts, uplifting employees from underrepresented groups, and building out robust DEI strategies.

As companies shift to make DEI a focal point in their overall strategy, they will lean on HR for guidance on listening to the daily realities of underrepresented groups – and developing strategies to action on that critical slice of employee feedback.

A sense of belonging, a key component of inclusion, has been shown many times to have great outcomes for both employees and business. Fostering an inclusive workplace where diverse employees feel like they belong will help drive employee engagement at your organization.

2. Optimizing the candidate experience

Ahead of the entry point to the employee lifecycle lies the candidate experience. Candidates, many of whom will one day become employees, hold unique insights into the experience of interviewing for – and becoming a part of – your organization. In 2021, HR will lean into gathering those insights to understand (and act upon) how to improve the candidate experience.

Why is this information critical for HR in the year ahead? Due to the loss of talent in 2020, organizations will need to create on-ramps for those individuals who have left to rejoin. Whether through flexible work policies, part-time arrangements, or something else, HR is uniquely positioned to understand and facilitate the efforts that will support employees returning in a manner that works best for them. Plus, HR can help garner and articulate not only what prospective employees want, but how to meet those needs – from offer to onboarding and beyond.

Discover eight tips for onboarding remote employees

3. Viewing performance through a 360-degree lens

360-degree feedback – also known as multi-source or multi-rater feedback assessment – is a mechanism for gathering performance feedback. Leveraging multiple raters, such as peers, direct reports, and managers, as well as self-evaluation, this feedback mechanism offers a way for managers to get a more complete picture of an employee’s strengths and weaknesses.

Instead of a two-way conversation where the manager reviews an employee, 360-degree feedback widens the lens – reducing manager bias by supporting inclusive leadership behaviors and asking about leader effectiveness.

In the year ahead, HR will place greater emphasis on this more inclusive evaluation approach to better measure performance and effectiveness from a holistic perspective.

4. Partnering with IT to design and optimize the technology experience for employees – wherever they are working

More than ever, employees expect their technology experience – a combination of the devices, applications, infrastructure, and services offered by your organization – to give them the digital dexterity they need to perform their daily work. The disruptions of 2020 have put even more emphasis on the importance of a well-functioning technology experience – an expectation that is surely not going away after the pandemic is over. Traditionally, employee experience was seen as HR’s responsibility. Yet, employee experience has touchpoints at every intersection of your organization – and an employee’s technology experience is no exception.

Read the Qualtrics + PWC: Study of IT executives – Future-proofing the workforce’s technology experience

To ensure employees – whether they’re working remotely, in the office (or returning to the office), in the field, or a hybrid of these scenarios – are fully enabled with the tools they need to stay productive in the year(s) ahead, HR must partner with IT to design and optimize the employee technology experience. This will include working together to not only prioritize continuous listening to better understand employees’ technology needs, but also turning that (often subjective) employee feedback into objective data points, unlocking IT’s ability to take real-time action to overcome critical friction points within an organization's technology experience at scale, streamline collaboration tools, and help employees get the most out of systems and platforms.

Learn more: How to kick-start an experience management program for IT teams

5. Listening to employees and taking action – with frequency and relevance

Agile pulse surveys – that is, shorter, more frequent, business-aligned surveys – give organizations the power to track areas that are core to their business, culture, and people strategy, while also allowing room to flex in emerging business and people needs. They’re a more nimble mechanism for measuring the employee experience that keeps feedback timely and relevant, and facilitates more proactive action.

Read more: What is an Employee Pulse Survey?

Thanks to pulse surveys, organizations were able to react quickly in a changing work environment and take prompt action during the pandemic. In 2021, organizations will double down on these agile listening approaches to tune into the evolving needs of its employee population. Some of the areas where we think employees will need support this year include readiness and safety to return to the office and well-being.

With the help of HR – and EX professionals in particular – organizations will reap the benefits of listening to what your people need and actioning that feedback.


2021 Employee Experience Trends Report: Discover the insights that can help drive your people strategy in 2021 and beyond