Top HR challenges for 2021 revealed

During COVID-19 Australia’s workforce navigated enormous challenges and went above and beyond to help their employer respond to the crisis and chart their way through recovery and back to growth. Yet at the same time, many organisations cut rewards and recognition, leaving a lot of people feeling overworked and disengaged, ready to jump ship as soon as they can in 2021.

After all, 2020 was a year like no other. While we’re used to the challenges that volatility can create, in 2020 these were amplified tenfold. No wonder then that organisations and their people are turning to this New Year as a time to consolidate, refocus and plan their future.
For employees, their plan is clear – 74 per cent have indicated they plan to look for a new job in 2021. In response, employers need to address challenges that have had a monumental impact on their staff – so much so that they’re motivating people to look for a new job elsewhere.


1. Staff engagement 

Based on our conversations with employers, tackling staff engagement tops the list of challenges that need to be managed. Motivating discretionary effort is always top of mind for good leaders, but after a year in which traditional pay rises and rewards were put on hold, it has become vital. 
By and large, most people went over and above to help their organisation through the crisis. As a result, there will come a time when they want to be recognised and rewarded in return. Failing to do so will create not only a staff engagement risk but the likelihood of rising turnover.
But a good engagement plan does not solely involve financial rewards. Even as budgets remain tight, there are various ways to engage staff at work including both intrinsic and extrinsic factors, to keep your people motivated, productive and innovative.
These range from improving the employee experience to recognising top performance, career development or promotional opportunities, family-friendly work practices and work-life balance.

2. Managing flexible working

Mass remote working was a forced and early modification made to the way we work in response to COVID-19. It enabled business continuity and has, in the months since the first lockdown was announced, become mainstream. Clearly, the genie is out of the bottle and we’ve all seen that remote workers are productive, collaborative and successful. 

Given this, remote working is no longer viewed by employees as a benefit – it’s now considered a standard expectation. But the offering of regular remote working remains relatively new territory for many employers, which is why it’s important to take the time now to review what has and hasn’t worked and determine the long-term flexible working model that best suits your organisation.

Understandably, there are several considerations for any employer looking to establish regular hybrid working. However, if your staff worked remotely during lockdown, expecting them to return to exclusively office-based working will do irreparable damage to your employer brand.

Determining the best hybrid working model for your organisation is therefore another key challenge to solve for the year ahead. 

3Mental health and wellbeing  

There’s no denying that organisations and their employees have had to navigate difficult headwinds in 2020 – in fact, it’s been the most challenging market that most of us have ever faced. This past year has left everyone exhausted and while many organisations are recovering and on a path back to growth – or have already returned to growth – there are still many challenges ahead.
No wonder then that staff are waving a white flag and mental health and wellbeing has declined during COVID-19. At the same time, we know that both employers and employees believe an organisation should support their employees’ mental health and wellbeing (AU) / support their employees’ mental health and wellbeing (NZ) at work. 
So, with the lines between an employer’s duty of care and employees’ wellbeing becoming blurred, workers certainly expect more support from their employer. Employers therefore need to hit pause and take action in early 2021 to readdress workloads, increase mental health and wellbeing support (AU) / mental health and wellbeing support (NZ) and be more accommodating to each individual employee’s needs. 

4. Talent mobility and upskilling

Pre-COVID-19, upskilling often took a back seat to more urgent priorities. However, it is precisely during times of crisis – which we must remember are temporary – that investing in employee upskilling and development should be prioritised. After all, as our CEO Alistair Cox has discussed, doing so helps you come out the other end in the best possible situation, with the strongest people in your team.
Upskilling is also highly motivating for staff, allowing you to show that you value them and are committed to helping them reach their career goals.
Of course, talent mobility feeds into this, allowing you to move employees into different roles to develop their skills while simultaneously filling skills gaps and future-proofing your workforce. Internal talent mobility allows you to leverage your existing staff to meet your current needs, so you always have the right people working on the right projects or in the right department at the right time.
But while many organisations have solid promotional pathways in place, the same cannot be said for a talent mobility strategy. This is why enabling internal talent mobility and upskilling should also be prioritised this year.
To sum up, while these issues may seem like even more tasks to juggle on an already long to-do list, addressing employee engagement, mental health and upskilling, as well as long-term flexibility, will ensure you have a motivated, satisfied and skilled workforce who are ready and willing to help your organisation return to growth and achieve your priorities for the year ahead.


About this author

Nick Deligiannis, Managing Director, began working at Hays in 1993 and since then he has held a variety of consulting and management roles across the business. In 2004 he was appointed to the Hays Board of Directors. He was made Managing Director of Australia and New Zealand in 2012.

Prior to joining Hays, he had a background in human resource management and marketing, and has formal qualifications in Psychology.

Follow Nick on LinkedIn