Employee Management Challenges for HR Leaders in 2021

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Smriti Rajan comes from a political science and literature background, having an immense passion for writing across varied topics. She has written several articles and blogs for diverse audiences worldwide. She has produced several research publications, policy frameworks, and opinion pieces for think tanks, government institutions and corporates. Alongside this, she writes for a large Fortune 500 clientele and is a key contributing writer for Wikistrat on their EMEA desk. Currently, she resides in India.

As we step into 2021, there is a ray of hope that the world may start to return to “normal”, looking at the promising results of different vaccine trials. However, even when it is safe to return to the office, the new models of remote work and “work from anywhere” are likely to persist – particularly now that they’ve been proven as successful ways to get work done.

Weeks before the WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, experts said gig-worker laws, Generation Z workers, mental health, and vaping would be the top issues managers would face in 2020. 

Considering the technological advances, widening skills gap, and shifting workforce expectations, employee management has become more important than ever before. HR leaders who anticipated fundamental shifts happening accelerated transformation and punctuated the need to reevaluate and rethink certain HCM practices.  

Top Challenges

Here are 4 key challenges HR Leaders need to be ready to face in the coming year.

1. ‘Hidden’ remote work risk 

The great thing about the remote work model is work can get done from anywhere. The challenging thing about the remote model is the same – work can be done from anywhere. With so many employees working from “home” your employees can be working in another city, state, or country without you knowing it. This opens up businesses and employees to tax and permanent establishment risk. While many jurisdictions have given a pass for this in 2020, it is likely that they will start enforcing it again in 2021.

2. Remote work fatigue and social capital loss

Remote-work arrangements, still common and probably here to stay, create not only feelings of isolation, but also a loss of “social capital,” said Alec Levenson, Ph.D., a senior research scientist at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business Center for Effective Organizations in Los Angeles. “Social capital” describes the building of relationships, personal and professional, that help you do your work well.

To keep social capital flowing, he said that managers need to reach out to workers. One way might be to host a social Zoom gathering, Levenson said, acknowledging that many workers are suffering from Zoom fatigue. Another option for maintaining employee connections: Encourage workers to create communities on the company intranet based on their off-hours interests. 

3. Business travel compliance 

One of the first forms of employee movement to come back in 2021 will be business travel. In the US this will mean getting on top of state-to-state payroll withholding. In Europe, there’s the more complex challenge of the A1 and Posted Workers Directive to tackle. With COVID-19 shutting down most cross-border business travel, complying with these rules was not a top priority for most companies. We can expect that in 2021, as the virus gets under control and organizations start deploying employees across borders, countries will be looking to enforce this rule and others to ensure they are getting the appropriate tax contributions.

4. Employee demands for new working models

There is a lot of discussion around how work will get done in a post-pandemic world. Some businesses have moved aggressively to embrace remote work. Some organizations have gotten rid of corporate campuses or made working remote the de-facto practice. We’re likely to see more nuanced approaches and policies moving forward. These include fully remote work, flexible work, extending vacation with remote work in their holiday location, etc. Organizations will need the right frameworks and tools to manage new employees. 

Tackling these challenges and the others sure to arise in 2021 requires a shift in both policy and tools used to manage employees. Having accurate and real-time employee data will be more important than ever. That’s why enabling HR teams with the right technology to manage this new world of work will be crucial to create a competitive advantage as opposed to another burden placed on HR teams without the right support.

The Solution

1. Health and wellness programs

H&W programs can help HR teams overcome their challenges in 2021 if they can find the right mix of benefits within their budget constraints. Benefits that help employees improve aspects of their overall health, like mental health benefits and financial wellness programs, can build resilience and help employees both manage and avoid exhaustion and burnout. 

2. Communication 

This is crucial to organizational success next year, especially as many workplaces plan to continue working remotely indefinitely. Finding the right balance between professional check-ins where supervisors touch base with employees’ workloads, productivity and engagement are going to be just as important as personal check-ins where supervisors ask employees how they’re doing with everything going on and encourage them to ask for support when they need it. 

Effective HR teams focused on their most important initiatives and highly aware of the challenges they’ll face will help their organizations beat their business goals in the new year.

3. Employee well-being

Managers need to be aware that the pandemic likely has affected each worker differently, said Chicago-based Ravin Jesuthasan, global leader for transformation services at Mercer, a global human capital solutions firm. “Each worker is going through a unique experience,” he said.

Managers shouldn’t assume they know who is most stressed out or jump to conclusions. People living alone may be lonely or may cherish the extra alone time remote work provides. As a solution, try to check in, one-on-one, once a week with employees to see how they are doing, Ihrke suggested. Hence, before you talk in detail with employees about their needs, understand the kind of resources available to support them. 

Looking Forward

According to the World Economic Forum, 42% of jobs will require different skills in the next three years. And more than 1 billion workers will require reskilling by 2030.

HR leaders said their most important initiatives in the next 12 months are: 

  • 48 percent said employee engagement
  • 46 percent said training and enabling managers
  • 44 percent said diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) programs
  • 37 percent said learning and development 
  • 33 percent said performance management

ALSO READ: Impact of Technology on HR in the New Work Era

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