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3 Big, Not-So-Obvious Employee Engagement Trends for 2021


As we wind down a tumultuous year, here are three big employee engagement trends for 2021 that might not be so obvious but will come in handy.

With all that’s happening in the world and everything being far from “back to normal”, it’s okay to feel a bit of apprehension about what lies ahead as we push toward the end of a bewildering year. Nonetheless organizations are trying to make sense of it all and identify the big employee engagement trends for 2021. But employee engagement levels have fluctuated with seemingly no rhyme or reason since the pandemic began, and all the metrics we used to rely on are harder than ever to predict.

The Obvious Stuff

Some of the lessons 2020 taught us about how work has changed were obvious. For instance, we know remote work is going to be heavily relied upon moving forward. We know that on top of working from home, many parents are facing additional stress from in-home schooling and other effects of COVID-19. These conditions, along with ongoing social distancing and other pandemic measures, may very well still be around in 2021.

It’s a given that any employer hoping to attract, engage, or retain their staff on any meaningful level will have to take the above factors, along with the usual workplace concerns like benefits, health, and pay, into account. Fortunately, most everyone is on the same page about the obvious stuff. Beyond that, much is up in the air about what it will mean to engage a workforce and have a healthy culture in the coming years.

But if we get past some of the logistical changes everyone faces, and think deeper about what employees have been through and what it will take to meet their needs in the long run, there are three big, perhaps not-so-obvious employee engagement trends for 2021:

  • Action-oriented empathy. Even before the pandemic hit, many HR professionals were already saying that empathy would be the engagement trend of the 2020s. They ended up being eerily spot-on. Organizations not taking a culture of empathy seriously will have major trouble retaining talent. Time to demonstrate a sincere commitment with every employee interaction from hire to retire. Make empathy and kindness a habit for all the reasons you think of, but mostly for the reasons you didn’t think of.
  • Mental health awareness. Wellness programs and biometric trackers placed a high value on physical health in the past, but the pressures of the pandemic have aggravated an already problematic national mental health crisis as well. Making mental health awareness part of your culture in 2021 should be considered as a top a priority.
  • Consistency and honesty. Few things ended up being reliable in 2020 and current events have fueled paranoia about what might be coming next. Organizations should maintain a continued effort to be transparent and consistent with employees.

Embrace Uncertainty

There will be endless analyses and predictions about 2021 and what it will look like for employees, recruiters, and HR. The biggest takeaway from all of it may be that many of the old ways of doing things will work moving forward. Uncertainty is almost impossible to plan around, but it’s really one of the only certainties in life. Cultures that accept uncertainty, embrace it, and plan to sincerely take care of their people are likely to be the most desirable places to work. As companies continue to rebuild their workforce cultures and recruit new talent, these three trends for 2021 can serve as a solid foundation for any employee engagement strategy.