2020 changed work. The pandemic affected nearly everything – where, when, how and why we work. Now it’s time to adjust for 2021.
Gallup researchers recently uncovered the biggest changes to work in 2020 – and how those will impact HR leaders and their organizations in the coming year.
Of course, some insights won’t surprise you because you lived it. For example, most companies found remote work is a viable solution when workplace health and safety are a concern. (Which, in the case of the coronavirus, it feels like that’s the most pressing concern.)
Other insights were happy, unforeseen results that might help you create an even better corporate culture.
Here’s what Gallup researchers found – and tips for making it all work better in the coming year(s).
Make remote work better
When companies closed their doors, and employees were sent home to work, many leaders didn’t think it would last long. Some didn’t think much would get done. Others doubted their own ability to manage employees from a distance.
Truth is, the transition to remote work didn’t go smoothly either. People were challenged by technology, personal space, broadband, caring for others and stress.
But Gallup researchers found, as time marched on, employees worked out the kinks and became re-engaged with their work. Now, 55% of managers say they’ll let employees work remotely more often – or even all the time.
2021 Outlook: Most HR leaders and many front-line managers will work remotely or supervise off-site employees at least part-time going forward. So you’ll want to make sure everyone is as efficient at home as they are on-site. You can find dozens of ideas on how to set up and train employees to work better from home here.
Give more feedback
Employee engagement dipped, then rose, in 2020. And it makes sense: Employees were uprooted, uncertain and scared in the early months of the pandemic. Nearly everyone struggled to focus on work whether they were remote or on-site. Engagement fell.
Then, as things fell into place, employees got focused and reengaged.
But Gallup researchers found one thing made a big difference in the level of engagement. Feedback from the boss.
Managers who regularly talked to employees were able to engage and motivate their team better than those who took a more hands-off approach. Employees even said any feedback – positive and/or constructive – was helpful.
2021 Outlook: Keep it coming, HR leaders! Give weekly feedback and remind your front-line managers to stay in touch with each of their employees at least a few times a week – whether they’re remote or right outside the door. Ask employees about the challenges they face, both professional and personal if it impacts remote work. Then work on ways you can help.
Forget annual reviews
Frequent feedback can help eliminate an archaic management tool: the annual review. Even before COVID-19, traditional performance reviews and the tools leaders use to execute and manage them were plagued with problems, Gallup researches said.
Yearly reviews were too infrequent – and long physical absences in 2020 made it worse. Annual goal setting and irregular feedback became irrelevant as conditions, circumstances and demands changed so quickly this year.
2021 Outlook: Managers want to have more frequent, timely and informal performance conversations with employees. Even if it’s a one-on-one Zoom call, it’ll help everyone stay focused on the right objectives and adapt as your business does.
Help curb burnout
People are stressed from the pandemic and all the complications its caused. Work is just a piece of the complicated puzzle. But it’s significant enough that HR leaders and front-line managers saw a serious increase in employee burnout in 2020.
Here’s the good part: Managers can help employees avoid burnout because they have control over the biggest causes. Gallup found the major reasons employees burn out include:
- Unfair treatment
- Unmanageable workload
- Unclear communication
- Lack of manager support
- Unreasonable time pressure
2021 Outlook: Managers want to regularly gauge employees’ experience and feelings about the five major factors. Employees will inevitably have to power through a few times of heavier workloads and short deadlines. But managers want to monitor employees to make sure it’s not happening all the time. That will make them feel supported, inspired and motivated.
Focus on well-being
“If leaders have learned anything in 2020, it is that employee well-being is an essential factor in business survival. If your people aren’t healthy — physically and mentally — you won’t succeed,” Gallup researchers said.
You’ve heard it hundreds of times in 2020: We’re all in this together. At work, being in it together is essential – and will continue to be. Companies supported employee physical and mental well-being more than ever since the pandemic hit.
2021 Outlook: HR leaders will want to look for ways to bolster and communicate your wellbeing initiatives and resources. “When employers support well-being, they support their employees’ engagement, performance, and productivity as well,” Gallup researches said.
Emphasize your mission
Employees – and even front-line managers – who have worked remotely, socially distanced and behind masks all year feel disconnected.
Many lost touch with the organization’s mission and sometimes their own goals. Some lost sight of what makes their company and their work special or better than the competitors’, the Gallup study found.
Leaders want to focus again on what makes your company, people and mission important.
2021 Outlook: Get employees re-involved in corporate ideas and ideals. Perhaps they can revamp your mission statement. Or create a cross-functional team so employees from different areas can share best practices for the new work norms. Then they can create regular updates, guides and resources to help all employees navigate the new year and beyond.