We are ready for 2021, because the past year has forced us to make adjustments that often had negative consequences. Yet there are also positive developments. For instance working from home, do we find it lonely and energy-draining, or are we happy with the focus, flexibility and reduction of traffic jams? The opinions of employees – and emotions derived from them – are strongly divided! This means that HR professionals and leaders in organizations must be extra agile in 2021. Because how do you lead teams in achieving successful results when they are working from home and at the same time keep the happiness of individual employees up to standard? The 8 HR trends of 2021 are tapping in to these challenges!

1. Well-being as a condition for commitment

Due to the current crisis and the measures it entails, the feeling of loyalty of many employees has decreased. When we started working from home in March, we often organized extensive online drinks, pub quizzes and other ways to connect and have fun. Now fewer and fewer people are staying connected this way because of the “zoombie effect” (tired of all the video calling). How do you still ensure engagement?

In 2021, employee well-being will not only be a subject to keep an eye on, but a standard item on the agenda (of all managers). You strengthen well-being by, amongst other things, giving social work relationships (personal) attention, creating a comfortable working environment, and letting employees determine their own harmony between work and private life. How do you do that structurally? Use check-ins or mood measurements with which you can express work happiness in concrete numbers and trend lines. With these signals, you can intervene more quickly and start the conversation if negative moods persist or rise. If employee happiness is high structurally in your organization, engagement will follow automatically.

2. HR analytics becoming the standard in business processes

It will not surprise you: we have recently switched to “fully digital” even faster. And that includes HR too. Speed ​​and efficiency have become more important, and with it the popularity of HR analytics and management tools rise. For example, in 2021 on-boarding, performance management or satisfaction surveys will hardly be carried out without the help of smart software anymore.

This has 3 advantages: you ensure standard processes and continuity, you are more efficient and more “tailor-made” in increasing employee satisfaction, and you reduce the workload in the HR department. All these HR analytics will become indispensable for the innovative HR manager. Because with them, he or she will make data-driven decisions, devise scenarios, execute pilots, measure effect and adjust where necessary! All this to facilitate the most positive and productive working atmosphere for every colleague.

3. Annual performance interview becomes a monthly check-in

Every improvement plan starts with a clear picture of the reality. So would you rather have a photo or a movie of a whole year of work? The one-time annual appraisal or performance interview (a photo) absolutely no longer fits in 2021 and the noisy periods that we are yet to face. We already saw extreme peaks of stress and dissatisfaction in 2020, while we do not see these in the yearly average.

The purpose of a performance interview is to exchange feedback and thereby improve and develop. That is why it is good to have this conversation regularly and to see what employees need at that moment to get the best out of themselves. Think of it as a monthly check-in! Relying on your gut feeling is no longer sufficient when working remotely. Moreover, the needs of employees (due to external factors) can change quickly. So pay attention to this appraisal every month, or at least once every quarter. And use your HR analytics (if you have them)! You will see that you can act faster and more focused on matters at hand. Oftentimes, the sincere attention from the employer alone gives a boost to employee happiness.

4. Scenarios with participation or feedback

If there is one thing that makes people happy, it is certainty. Unfortunately, uncertainty is a major side effect of the Covid crisis. For many employees this is a main cause of stress, and the longer it persists, the higher the risk of burnout.

As a counterpart to uncertainty, we saw in previous research that clear communication provides a lot of resilience and appreciation for the employer. That is why leaders are well advised to develop and share scenarios internally at an early stage. Think of the Covid roadmap of governments as an example. In 2021, the HR manager will have the great task of making the voice of employees count in this, so that the support and effectiveness of all developed plans will increase!

This can be done in three ways:

  • Before: do a baseline measurement and collect ideas to co-create the work climate
  • During: continuously monitoring the impact of communication messages on mood
  • After: collecting feedback on the choices made and measuring their effect

5. From stress management to sustainable employability

For a couple of year now we see an increase in the experience of workload, stress and burnouts. The Covid crisis has only pushed these numbers further up. To prevent all organizational leaders from becoming stress managers, it is smart to act proactively. From an employer’s perspective, pay attention to sustainable employability or even better ”sustainable employership”. The idea behind this is that employees work longer, more productively and with more joy, in a working environment that is coherent and satisfying and that stimulates healthy behavior.

This concept was already known at a number of organizations, for example by focusing on the mobility and learning ability of older employees, but the challenge will become even more complex in 2021. Because how do you become a successful sustainable employer with a physical work environment that is more difficult to control due to working from home? And how do you deal with different generations and their different needs?

Scientific research shows that sustainable employership is determined by six different dimensions and  how satisfied employees are about them. Think of cohesion, job demands and responsibilities, support from managers and the extent to which employees feel that they “belong”. In general, employees in a sustainable working environment are more vital, have less chance of depression, smoke and drink less and lead a healthier life. It is therefore attractive in many areas for the employee to work for a sustainable employer. The organizations that will pay more attention to sustainable employership in 2021 also contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (specific goal 3: “Good health and well-being”) of the United Nations!

6. Yes to hybrid working, no to hybrid culture

Office life as many know it has been overhauled. In 2021 we will experiment with a combination of working environments: partly from home, and partly from the office. But this does involve risks. For example, how do you, as a manager, determine a good “hybrid working” schedule for your team(s)? What do employees want themselves? And how do you still maintain a certain structure to reinforce connection (which we so badly need!). After all, you want to keep all employees involved in their team and the organization, including (introverted) employees who may be more inclined to work from home. If you do not make a good strategy and approach for this, connection and communication in hybrid working are more of a risk than a strength.

Little islands naturally arise: the people who are often together in the office are much more connected with each other than with the rest of the team. Anyone who works remotely completely or much more, gets used to a different way of working together and communicating. This creates multiple communication flows and subcultures that do not connect well with each other. The consequences of this are often only visible in the longer term. (For example, are employees still ambassadors of their organization, or will everyone have the same chance to be promoted?) Hybrid working in 2021 is a good example where scenario planning can help. How can your organization or team find the best balance between working from home and at the office? Request feedback from employees (in advance) and choose the best solution.

This checklist (or free online measurement) can help!


7. Remote leadership asks for role models

Remote leadership will also develop further in 2021. Especially with hybrid working on the rise, it is important to keep your employees engaged and excited. From mood measurements among an average of 3,500 employees and managers every week, we see that managers are generally more excited than employees, and certainly during the crisis. The relationship with the direct manager is also a source of energy for many employees. These insights provide an opportunity for middle managers or team leaders to be extra visible, not only as a manager, but now also as a role model. This is necessary, because due to the crisis we see that there are many individual needs regarding working from home. Generational differences and home situations can make a world of difference in the experience of subjects such as stress, workload, loneliness, productivity, enthusiasm and work-life balance.


The middle manager or team leader often knows those individual needs best, or can quickly gauge them. So he or she is the perfect person to take a step forward and not leave connection, culture or mental well-being up to the HR department alone. Moods are contagious, so if the leader remains calm or positive in a stressful situation, employees are more likely to follow his or her lead. We also know from research that connectedness in the private sphere also helps to deal with work stress. So create a working climate in which employees feel the freedom to make use of these relations. As a condition, the middle manager must of course be given enough confidence, freedom and tools from HR or higher management to be able to excel in that exemplary role!


8. From employer branding to employee ambassadors

The labor market and recruitment environment have changed rapidly. That is why it is important to know what image you have as an employer in the outside world. You don’t want to scare off talent with negative publicity. While new candidates were more likely to include salary, development opportunities and a pleasant atmosphere at the office in their selection process previously, different questions are now being asked.

How do you as an employer deal with your staff in times of crisis? As a company, do you work completely from home, hybrid or at the office, and how is that going? What degree of autonomy and flexibility is there, or is there a lot of structure and control? Of course, the answer to these questions should not come from yourself as the employer. The message is much more convincing when it comes from experts by experience, your own employees!

A quick way to gauge your employer reputation and how many real employee ambassadors your organization has, is the Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS). The critics also come to light, but that way you know where you can improve as an employer. Do you need new talent in 2021? Then make sure that your current employees are fans of you and then the positive advertising will do the work!

Hopefully this preview of the HR trends of 2021 will put you in action mode. What are you going to do now to be able to respond more agile and faster to the changes that are coming in the short term? Because in 2021 your employees deserve more than ever to remain in first place. This way the positive results for your culture, customers, partners and financial results will follow automatically!