December 22, 2021

Five HR trends that shaped 2021 (and what to expect from 2022)

2021 has been a trying year for all of us. COVID-19 disrupted workplaces, kept us out of the office and put many businesses on hold. But from the ashes of this disruption, whole new ways of working have evolved and emerged, along with new styles of management and a new emphasis on employee wellbeing. We explore the HR trends that mattered in 2021 and forecast how they will affect the workplace in 2022.

1. COVID-19: beyond vaccination, masks and leave

2021 was our second year of the coronavirus and, as we kept hearing, in many ways it was also the year we began to learn to live with it. After being locked down for several months, many of us returned to the office, even though it meant masks and social distancing.  

Earlier this year, we fielded many enquiries about the status of unvaccinated employees. Fortunately, with almost 95% of adults in NSW and Victoria now vaccinated, this is becoming less of a hot issue. With so many businesses unable to run at full capacity, we were also frequently asked about the ability to force employees to take leave.

As we move into 2022, our state and federal governments have both announced that lockdowns will become less likely. So, with the virus still about, it’s likely that many of the modifications to the workplace we’ve adopted this year will continue well into next. (See 3. below.)

2. A new focus on mental health

It’s no secret that lockdowns and working from home (WFH) had a real impact on many employees’ mental health. Fortunately, many employees began to notice this and we saw a newfound appreciation for the importance of mental wellbeing.

What we also noticed was that talking about mental health became more common in the workplace. 

This means we saw a lot more employers introducing formal measures to ensure their employees’ mental health stayed protected, including offering mental health leave and adopting a formal mental health policy.

Read more about mental health in the workplace.

3. Returning to the workplace mattered

While WFH had its upsides, the experience of remote working during COVID-19 gave a lot of employers and employees a new appreciation for the benefits of the workplace.  After all, while some people were more productive and content working from home, a lot weren’t. And many couldn’t wait to get back into the office

In most workplaces, so many of the best ideas happen informally, around the proverbial water cooler. Working remotely can deny us these benefits, or at least make them a lot harder to achieve. So having everyone in one place again made a lot of people’s work improve. It also gave us much needed human contact, giving us that much needed social aspect to our work.

4. Flexible and hybrid work come of age

Despite this, 2021 was the time that remote working came of age. With their workforces stuck at home, many employers were forced to understand and invest in proper collaborative technology. They were also made to up their game when it came to managing remote workers and understanding how to motivate them and keep productivity up.

Now, even as we return to the office, many employers are comfortable having their employees work a hybrid model, where they spend some of the time in the office and the rest of the time WFH, bringing the best of both worlds.

5. HR trends to expect from 2022

If the past couple of years have taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected. Few of us saw this year’s prolonged lockdown coming despite the experience of 2020.

With that in mind, it’s difficult to forecast exactly what 2022 will bring. But, we’re still confident of a few trends.

First, we expect to see the War for Talent intensify. As the economy heads back into full swing, we’re likely to see skilled employees in high demand. That means wages could rise (along with inflation). However, it also means those employers with the right workplace culture are likely to come out ahead.

Second, it’s unlikely we’ll go back to the pre-pandemic office. Hybrid and flexible working are here to stay. That means employers are likely to palace more emphasis on productivity than on hours worked – a great thing all round.

Third, while people are sick and tired of the pandemic, I think we’ll see more optimism return. And with the balance of power shifting from employer to employee – and employers responding – we could see people enjoying their work more and finding greater job satisfaction. 

In short, I’m hopeful we’ve reached the bottom and that, with the lessons we’ve learned over the pandemic, we have a more exciting year ahead of us.

Want to know more about these HR trends? 

If you’d like to know more about the trends impacting HR right now, get in touch.

say hi to our author

Merilyn founded Catalina Consultants in 2012 on the belief that all organisations, regardless of size, should have access to top quality bespoke HR services. She enjoys working closely with her clients and believes that the best results are built on relationships of rapport, trust and authenticity. Growing up, Merilyn had her sight set on stardom and dreamed of becoming an actor. She also sang and played the piano, but ended up studying accounting and HR. Whilst she hasn’t won her Grammy just yet, she still loves a good karaoke night. Merilyn loves to travel with her family, with South Africa being one of her most memorable destinations.

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