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2021 Report: 14 Employee Engagement Trends and Forecasts Every Manager Needs to Know

August 16, 2021

By Kelley Briggs
In recent years, it has become evident that creating a company culture that encourages employee engagement does more than simply keep your workers content. According to Gallup, a highly engaged business unit is 21% more profitable than your average company and receives 10% more approval... in customer ratings. It follows then that engagement will not only be a major focal point in 2021, but it will assume a deeper meaning, a way for organizations to attract and retain the best talent... Techniques for Employee Rewards and Recognition to consider.


Trend #1:     
Blending Rewards and Recognition with People and Purpose to Create the Right Team Culture

In recent years, it has become evident that creating a company culture that encourages employee engagement does more than simply keep your workers content. According to Gallup, a highly engaged business unit is 21% more profitable than your average company, and receives 10% more approval in customer ratings. It follows then that engagement will not only be a major focal point in 2021, but it will assume a deeper meaning, a way for organizations to attract and retain the best talent.

Leading companies are stepping up their focus on culture to stay ahead of the curve. This means finding a way to make all members of the workforce feel included, respected, and recognized — from baby boomers to millennials to Gen Z, whether they’re in the office or remote, on salary or freelance.

Techniques for Employee Rewards and Recognition to Consider

If you really want to create engagement, it’s not enough to dole out positive feedback whenever you see fit. You need to employ carefully considered strategies that recognize and reward your employees. Consider some of the following techniques and try those that fit best within your organization.

Be Detailed and Specific

When you acknowledge a specific accomplishment and provide precise details about what has impressed you, your employees know that you’re paying attention, not simply handing out compliments to keep them working hard. Most people have a good sense of when they’re being flattered. Not only that, but you are being clear in your approval and reinforcement of positive behavior.

Encourage Recognition Among Peers

You can only offer so much praise yourself. Creating a culture of recognition requires you to outsource your encouragement to your entire workforce. Whether this means creating an online space where employees are allowed to recognize each other’s accomplishments or an in-office recognition program that’s more personable is up to you, but the fact is that peer-to-peer recognition is shown to carry more weight than top-down recognition. It should be a key point of focus for your company in 2021.

It’s Not Just About Accomplishments

Feeling respected and acknowledged by your company shouldn’t always be tied to what you’ve done for them and how well you’ve done it. Celebrating the employees themselves can go a long way towards creating a culture of engagement. This can mean hosting birthday parties, publicly congratulating them for personal milestones, like having a child or getting engaged, or even celebrating their company anniversary. These things don’t need to be lavish; they need to be enough to let your employees know that they matter to the company.

Show Flexibility

Breaking the usual structure to allow for a little individual recognition can help strengthen your connection with your employees. For instance, you can reward them with time off after they’ve put in some extra hours. This shows that you’re not rigid, that you value their sacrifice, and that you recognize them as a person first, not only as an employee. It’s a small sacrifice for you, but it can mean a lot to them.

Forecast of Trend #1:    
The Reach of Employee Experience Strategies Will Extend Globally

In 2020, much of the working world went remote. In 2021, you can expect more of the same. In fact, it is anticipated that remote work will become much more of an accepted norm — regardless of the pandemic.

While a workplace that relies on remote employees can have its drawbacks, the ability to locate top talent across the country, and also around the world, can be seen as a major advantage. It does, however, present some challenges for maintaining employee engagement.

With your workforce spread out, you will need to find a way to deliver the same employee experience and with consideration to a host of international cultures. It may sound daunting, but your best bet is to use everything that has worked for you in the office as the foundation of your digital experience, and then go from there. This means that your system of initiatives, rewards, incentives, and benefits will need to be uniform for everyone.

Perfecting the model at your headquarters will set the template for a successful global roll-out, and offering the same experience to employees worldwide will give global companies a leg up.

Tips for Creating a Strong Digital Employee Experience

Sticking to what works for you in the office is a great strategy, but it will require some adaptation when applying those strategies to the digital employee experience. Below are some tips on how to go about doing that.

Digital Employee Recognition

There’s a perk to recognizing an employee digitally: You can easily ensure that their accomplishment is acknowledged by the whole team by doing it over a group meeting. Take time out to recognize employee achievements before or after meetings and it will pay in dividends.

Scheduled Check-ins

Keeping up with digital employees requires strategic timing. You can’t just tap them on the shoulder in the office and catch up. You must plan specific times to touch base.

Let Them Establish Boundaries

Working from home means you’re almost always in the office, but it shouldn’t mean you’re always on the clock. Allow your digital employees to set boundaries for when they can and can’t get behind the computer, or their work-life balance will soon be in disarray.

Trend #2:    
Embracing the Remote Worker as a Vital Part of Your Operational Strategy

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrust remote work upon many of us, and the outlook for the post-pandemic world shows no signs of work-from-home attrition. A recent McKinsey study found that up to 25% of the workforces in advanced economies could continue working from home anywhere from three to five days a week, long after COVID-19 is gone. That tells us that remote work is slowly evolving from a necessary trend into a definitive new standard.

Many organizations have found that remote work is not only a viable alternative to working in an office, but that it also has some significant advantages. A two-year study by Stanford University found that working from home can actually boost productivity. Whether it’s due to the more relaxed atmosphere, the flexible schedule, or the ability to work in your PJs, remote workers are finding it easier to remain productive on the job, and for that reason, it’s going to be important to continue to support it well past the pandemic.

What to Look Out for as Remote Work Continues to Grow

With your necessary transition to a more work-from-home-friendly model, you’re going to need to make adjustments. To get a better idea of how to do that, keep an eye on the following challenges that are inherent to remote work.

Technological Mishaps

Your daily operations were already heavily dependent on technology, but adding remote workers into the mix takes that dependence to another level. While you may be able to provide your office with top-level equipment to ensure that everything runs smoothly, you can’t expect all of your remote workers to do that for themselves.

With remote work, an entire workday might be derailed due to issues with Internet connection. In some cases, an employee may simply not be able to work for your company because they do not have the bandwidth to do so. This means that ensuring a potential hire is equipped to perform the job is critical before they sign on the dotted line, as is taking a more flexible approach to how and when a job gets done in the event of technical difficulties.

A Need for Boundaries

Remote workers have the potential to feel as if they’re on call at all times of the day. After all, their cubicle is right inside their home. In order to ensure that they aren’t put in a position where they’re giving an unhealthy amount of time to the company, you need to allow them to set boundaries for the hours they are willing to work, as well as when they’ll be able to respond to emails, text messages, and other forms of communication.

Employee Isolation

It’s easy for remote workers to feel isolated and excluded from the rest of the team. Considering the fact that they’re spending the majority of their time at home, it’s easy for them to feel isolated from the world in general. To remedy this, it’s a great idea to make some room for purely social digital work events. Virtual water coolers, for example, allow remote workers to lighten their day with some much-needed social interaction and build relationships with co-workers.

One of the best ways to combat this feeling of isolation is to allow them to foster stronger connections with the rest of the team by using collaborative technology, such as Teams and Mural. These programs provide a self-contained platform where remote workers can interact with one another using a number of different tools, including video conferencing, instant messaging, and file sharing.

Forecast of Trend #2:    
Home Office Technology and Products Will Level Up to Mirror Business Grade

The technology that remote workers are using in their home office is most likely the technology they had well before the pandemic thrust this new norm upon us. That means it isn’t built to handle the same high traffic and usage demand of business-grade technology. As previously stated, this can lead to a host of different issues for your company, including the potential of losing out on top talent simply because they don’t have the equipment needed for the job. This tells us that the trend of remote work being fully embraced in 2021 is going to lead to more strategizing on how to integrate higher levels of technology, including browser-based technology, into our remote locations.

In order to know exactly what level of technology is going to get the job done for your remote workers, you’re going to need to determine your bandwidth needs. With this information, you can more easily assess if a potential hire has the technological capabilities to keep up with the job. Some companies are even assuring that they can acquire and retain talent by providing them with home office technology that mirrors the business-grade equipment they use in the office.

The transition to remote work is here to stay. In fact, the World Economic Forum predicts that work-from-home jobs will double in 2021. Adapting to this change is paramount to success for many companies moving forward, and a big part of that adaptation is going to be technological. Whether it’s ensuring that your workers have adequate hardware to perform the tasks at hand, or appropriate software or user-friendly platforms to streamline those tasks and connect them with their co-workers, it’s vital that you stay ahead of the curve on this trend.


Trend #3    
Diversity and Inclusion is Taking Center Stage

Calls for diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and everywhere else for that matter, are nothing new to 2021, but they do seem to grow louder every year. The summer of 2020 was marked by large-scale protests in major cities across the globe demanding social justice, and that has forced our leaders (both organizations and government) to examine and react to the ways in which our decisions, behaviors, and actions impact others, particularly those in marginalized groups.

In 2021, organizations will endeavor more than ever to create a more balanced workforce, providing greater opportunities for growth and a safer work environment for people across all spectrums. This will obviously be of great benefit to any group who has suffered at the hands of exclusionary business practices, but it is also bound to be financially beneficial for the organizations as well.

There are countless studies that show a close connection between diverse leadership and financial success. According to one study by McKinsey, the most diverse companies are now more likely to outperform less diverse peers on profitability. Not only that, but those same diverse companies are also more likely to attract and retain the top talent in the business. In other words, prioritizing diversity and inclusion is just as great of a financial decision as it is a moral and ethical one.

The Connection Between Diversity, Inclusion, and Financial Success

The studies on this trending topic are numerous, and the evidence is overwhelming: The more diverse your workforce is, the more creative, innovative, and financially successful it is likely to be.

Diverse Leadership and Innovation

A study by Boston Consulting Group shows that companies with above-average diversity scores enjoy 19% higher revenues thanks to a higher level of innovation.

Better Business Decisions with Inclusivity

It stands to reason that a broad range of perspectives can help an organization make smarter decisions, and this 2017 study by Cloverpop proves it. It found that inclusivity in the decision-making process yielded better results 87% of the time.

Gender Diversity and Profitability

Another McKinsey study highlights the connection between gender-diverse executive teams and higher profitability. It shows that gender diversity in strategic and operational decision-making has been seen to consistently lead to greater financial success.

Forecast of Trend #3:    
Embracing Diversity and Inclusion Will No Longer Be Enough — It Must Be Woven Into the Fabric of an Organization

It’s clear now that diversity and inclusion in the workplace is going to become a more important aspect of employee engagement as time goes on, and that means the magnifying glass is going to be held closer to organizations that preach diversity and inclusion, but cannot provide associated results. In 2021, you’ll see that the most successfully diverse and inclusive organizations will be the ones that take a holistic approach and build it directly into their culture.

One way companies are doing this is by “social listening” or following the conversations being had about them on social media in order to get a perspective that isn’t necessarily evident in the results of an employee survey. The idea of taking in a broad range of perspectives as a means of correction and self-reflection is a basic tenet of diversity and inclusion. Although social media chatter is subjective, it is a great way to step outside your organization and look inward.  

Tips for Creating a Culture of Diversity and Inclusion

Building a diverse and inclusive workplace is not accomplished in the hiring process alone. It is a concept that must be built into the foundation of an organization. Here are some ways you can start changing your company culture.

Provide Training Centered Around Diversity and Inclusion

Everyone has room to learn and grow, and everyone deserves an opportunity to do so. By providing your workforce with training aimed at raising sensitivity to the subjects of diversity and inclusion you not only provide them with invaluable knowledge about those who are different from them, but you also establish inclusion as a pillar of your organization.

Create a Diverse Hiring Team

Seeking out diverse hires can help you build a more representative workforce. Be certain that there is equal representation throughout all parts of your organization. You will not only create the diverse workforce you’re looking for, but you’ll also be more likely to make better hires that bring new innovative ideas with them.

Bring in an Expert

Diversity is so important in the modern working world that there are entire positions dedicated to that purpose. Hiring a chief diversity officer can help you accurately analyze where your organization is succeeding and where it needs work in terms of creating a culture of diversity and inclusion.

Establish Anti-Discrimination Policies

Let’s be honest: Sometimes real-life consequences, or at least the possibility of them, are necessary to make people reflect on personal blind spots and shortcomings. Applying firm anti-discrimination policies can send the message home that the culture change is real.  

Acknowledge Different Religious and Cultural Holidays

It is important to allow employees time off to observe holidays that are specific to their religion or culture. Alternatively, you might find a way to make these days significant in the office. Either way, it sends an important message that diversity is embraced within your workplace and that you value the differences and contributions of each employee.

Trend #4:     
Lead With the Heart, Not With the Head

If the COVID-19 pandemic has had any benefits in the working world, it might be that leadership has become more genuine and compassionate. We are seeing more executives who are communicating with their workforce on a more emotional level. This dramatic change has affected everyone in different ways and brought down some emotional barriers in the workplace that needed to dissolve long ago.

In 2021, management is using their intuition and personal experience with the isolation and grief of this past year to tap into real, relatable messages. This often motivates their workforce. Expect this trend to grow — authenticity is a key driver of employee engagement.  

Maya Angelou is credited with saying, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” 

While this quote may be universally applicable, it is particularly pertinent in today’s workplace. If you want an engaged workforce, you’re going to need to take a more empathetic approach than ever before.

Empathy and Employee Engagement

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that showing more empathy in the workplace leads to a more engaged workforce. Studies have shown that 96% of employees say that companies showing empathy is of great importance, yet 92% say that empathy is undervalued in the workplace. There’s a massive disconnect there, but the past year has slowly begun to bridge the gap. Below are some tips for becoming a more empathetic leader in 2021.

Work at It

It sounds simple, and it is simple, but there’s plenty of data to suggest that not enough leaders are doing it. Everyone can have callous moments, and sometimes it isn’t that easy to walk in another’s shoes. Your leadership approach must adopt the idea that you are not perfect, but you are always working towards being better. Remember, authenticity is key to employee engagement. If your workforce sees that you’re trying to be understanding, they will be more understanding. This encourages a more engaged team.

Make Exceptions

One of the best ways to bring some empathy to the workplace is to break structure once in a while. Allowing for a spur-of-the-moment change of plans, giving an employee extra time off to celebrate or grieve, or occasionally shirking work in favor of something fun for everyone are all great ways to show a more human side of your company and keep your employees engaged.

Establish Empathy Training Programs

Yes, empathy is something that can be learned. More importantly, perhaps, it is something that can become better understood. Establishing empathy training programs can help define what it means to be compassionate, and it can make the statement to your employees that it is something of great concern to the company.

Forecast of Trend #4:     
With Multigenerational and Geographic Differences, a 'One-Size-Fits-All' Approach to Workforce Communication Will Vanish

A standard format for leader-employee communications isn’t exactly the most human approach, is it? In order to reach employees and keep them engaged you need to consider each one as a unique individual who responds in a unique way to certain messaging and certain language. In 2021 and beyond, this concept will flourish. Communications will become more personal and be delivered in real-time through employee engagement technology platforms.

Multigenerational Communication in 2021

With Gen Z now beginning to make up a more significant portion of the workforce, there are currently four generations crossing paths in the workplace, all of which have their own means of communication. Robert Half Management Resources found as much in a 2017 study that highlighted the different preferences and styles of interaction between baby boomers, Gen X, millennials, and Gen Z. Understanding these differences in 2021, and diversifying your communication style accordingly, is key to keeping employees engaged across generations.

How Geographic Differences Affect Communication

The concept of “geographic differences” in the workplace can have at least two meanings these days. One is the literal one: the explosion of remote work brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic means that you and your employees may be in different geographic locations. The other is the more traditional definition, which acknowledges the broad range of cultures present in a diverse work environment.

Both of these geographic differences are going to require a retooling of the ways in which you communicate with your employees. One of the best ways to do that is through employee engagement software. Providing your workforce with a platform through which they can communicate, receive acknowledgment, monitor progress, and provide cataloged feedback is going to become the standard. You might as well embrace this trend now.

Breaking down emotional barriers and becoming more personal with your workforce may be a bit jarring at first, but if all the available data is to be trusted, it’s going to be a very good thing. Your renewed and refined approach to communication will be one of the most significant factors in increasing employee engagement in 2021.

Workforce Segmentation

Trend #5:     
Rewards are Being Tailored to a Multigenerational Workforce

Different generations have different needs and values, which means that different rewards and benefits are going to help your employees stay engaged. You will need to tailor your reward structure accordingly. This will require a strong understanding of what is valued by each segment of your workforce and a certain amount of flexibility so that you can meet all of their particular needs.

The Generations and What Motivates Them

Rapid change over the last several decades, particularly in the realm of technology, has created as significant a generational divide as we’ve ever seen in terms of values and motivators. To get a better idea of how to maintain multigenerational employee engagement, let’s take a look at what defines each generation in the modern workforce, and what can help make their employee experience both positive and meaningful.

Baby Boomers

The combination of millions of soldiers returning home from World War II in the mid-to-late 40s and the newly bustling economy that followed led to an unprecedented explosion in the birth rate from 1946 to 1964, a phenomenon known as the baby boom. This generation is bucking previous retirement trends and remaining in the workforce longer than their predecessors, so keeping them motivated and engaged is somewhat untrodden territory.

Rewards and benefits for baby boomers should be centered around things like stability, healthcare, tax benefits, retirement plans, help with child/elder care, prepaid gift cards, and food delivery. This generation also places special value on recognition of their loyalty to the organization.

Generation X

Born between 1965 and 1979, Gen X seems to avoid a lot of the generational butting of heads that tends to occur between millennials and baby boomers. They are statistically the most educated of generations within the modern workforce and they tend to strike a balance between the baby boomer’s family values and the millennial’s social values.

Rewards and benefits for Gen Xers should include increased autonomy and flexibility, child/elder care, paid fitness memberships, paid time off, prepaid gift cards, and opportunities for advancement.  


The generation of workers born between 1980 and 1995 currently constitutes the largest segment of the modern workforce. Many millennials came of age during the transition into a tech-centric, Internet-based society, so they tend to be very adaptable to evolving technological trends. That same seismic shift in society has contributed to a similarly large shift in what this generation values.

Rewards and benefits for millennials should focus on diversity and flexibility, paid time off, vacation time, paid fitness memberships, prepaid gift cards, recognition, games, and personalization.

Generation Z

The newest addition to the workforce, Gen Zers were born between 1996 and 2015. They have never known a world without the Internet and smartphones, so they are understandably more tech savvy than any generation before them. While this generation is relatively new to the working world, they have already begun to distinguish themselves from prior generations with their self-starting attitudes and increased focus on social causes.

Rewards and benefits for Gen Zers should be centered around advancement opportunities, recognition, flexibility and diversity, employee rewards programs, games, and prepaid gift cards.

Keeping Things Fair

Employee perception of equitable treatment is a key driver of retention, engagement, and performance. Contemporary organizations must strike a delicate balance between offering generationally relevant rewards for recognition and service while demonstrating fairness. Some employees might be entirely satisfied with a branded sweatshirt with the company logo, but it might send the wrong message if another employee receives something more substantial, like money or gift cards. That’s why some organizations are adopting a points-based reward system that can help level the playing field.

Forecast of Trend #5:     
Gift Cards Will Overtake Physical and Experiential Reward Gifts

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, experiential gifts were popular, which meant that finding the right gift for the person who had everything could be a big challenge. However, leading organizations are playing it safe with universally loved gift cards, considering the uncertainty of when restrictions will be lifted and vaccinations administered.

This trend will work out for both organizations and employees. It simplifies the process of seeking out worthwhile employee rewards while offering employees something both fun and useful. In the end, it offers employees the recognition that they have earned.

Why Gift Cards Work

Pandemic reasons aside, there are a number of reasons why companies are going to opt for gift card employee rewards going forward.

They Rival Experiential Gifts in Terms of Motivation

You may want to consider a gift card over an experiential gift even after restrictions have lifted and vaccines are administered. Studies have shown that they are just as motivational for employees as an experiential gift in spite of being a simpler choice for employers.

Cash is Less Fun

While cash rewards may offer broader possibilities, they can also find their way into next month’s rent, a phone bill, or a car payment, which isn’t necessarily where most employees want their hard-earned rewards to wind up. Gift cards offer an unavoidable opportunity for them to treat themselves.

They’re Flexible

You don’t have to put a ton of money into a gift card for it to be a worthwhile employee reward. It can be a small token of appreciation, such as $5 for coffee or $15 for lunch, or it can be something much more significant than that if the moment calls for it. It’s up to you, but either way, it can be a meaningful and motivational employee reward.

Training and Education

Trend #6:  
Shoring Up the Gaps in Skill Training

The challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic have reduced revenue and displaced workers, causing companies to rethink their business models and service delivery. One of the ways in which many businesses are attempting to do this is by integrating digital channels into their learning and developmental practices.

Companies that have successfully pivoted to digital skill training are finding that it has helped them identify technical and interpersonal skill gaps needed within their organization and provided employees with opportunities for growth and mentorship. They recognize that personal and professional development leads to higher levels of engagement, and has proven to yield positive business outcomes.

However, adapting the concept of upskilling to the newly altered business landscape has proven to be a difficult task for many companies. A new survey of learning and development professionals shows that only 28% of businesses have the right learning and development tools to meet employee needs following the sweeping changes caused by the pandemic. The good news is that the same survey found that 75% of companies said they have embraced digital transformation during the pandemic, and have grown stronger as a result. That’s why we believe that many companies will be shoring up those gaps in skill training practices by finding a way to successfully transition to a digital format.

The Importance of Upskilling and Reskilling in 2021

Considering the current environment, you might think that companies should be focused more on staying afloat and maintaining homeostasis, not looking to improve upon the skills of current employees. However, this is not necessarily the case, and both upskilling and reskilling may be in fact what helps a company stay afloat in these unprecedented times. Read on to learn more about why upskilling and reskilling are vital in 2021.

Internal Development May Be the Only Option

Many companies have had to put a pause on hiring, or at the very least slowed down their hiring significantly, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. This means that they’re going to rely on the workforce they currently have to help them move forward. The only chance many of these companies may have then to grow, or even just maintain, is to develop from within. Upskilling and reskilling can help to maximize what companies are getting out of the workforce they currently employ and fill in gaps that a hiring freeze will more likely create.

It Can Help Workers Keep Their Jobs     
For some companies, slowing down or freezing hiring has not been enough to keep them afloat. Layoffs predictably surged in 2020, and they can certainly be expected to come at an increased rate in 2021 as well. For some employees learning a new skill or sharpening their existing ones may be the only way to keep their job. Being able to fill more voids increases an employee's value to the company, and both upskilling and reskilling are ways  they can do that.

It’s a Powerful Tool for Employee Engagement

Most employees have a strong desire to fully use their capabilities in order to make an impact at their company. Upskilling affords them an opportunity to do so. Not only that, but helping an employee expound upon their skills and develop new ones also provides them with a chance for advancement. In a year where employee engagement needs to be of the utmost importance, upskilling and reskilling can be some of your greatest tools.

Forecast of Trend #6:  
Traditional Roles Will Become Blended as Upskilling Occurs

We expect that the great change set in motion over the course of the past year will extend into the realm of workplace roles in 2021, and beyond. As organizations streamline for more efficiency and cross-train employees to use multiple skills — sometimes outside of departmental boundaries — traditional positions will become more customized with blended responsibilities. While this development may primarily be a function of necessity, the flexibility it affords will also boost the morale of the existing workforce as well as attract new talent.

This boost in morale will be attributable to a number of factors. Allowing your workforce a chance to spread their wings and expand their roles will give them a greater sense of purpose, more autonomy, and a greater sense of impact. These are all key factors in employee engagement and this evolution in the workplace will be providing your employees with each of them.

The opportunity for a unique role within the company will also be an enticing draw for top talent if your organization is in the process of seeking new hires. Potential employees are not only looking for an opportunity to learn and grow within your company, they’re looking for something that makes it stand out. Ditching traditional roles in favor of something fresh might be exactly what your organization needs to do that.

Trend #7:  
Using Employees as Brand Ambassadors

Every organization has them: employee influencers who are highly engaged and champion your brand. In a world where business is becoming ever more reliant on social media for marketing, recruiting, and brand building, these employees have become a tremendous asset, and that trend is set to grow in 2021.    

Studies have shown that the general perception of the public today is that a company’s employees are more trustworthy than its CEO when it comes to divulging information about the organization. This means that what they have to say carries a significant amount of weight, and by using employees as brand ambassadors you can leverage that weight in order to build your team culture and shape your organization’s image.

The Power of Using Employees as Brand Ambassadors

Social media is an incredible way to share your company with the world, and to present yourself as a desirable employer to talented jobseekers. The only problem is that every useful network is already extremely crowded, so to get noticed you’re going to have to cut through a whole lot of noise. You can do that by turning your employees into brand ambassadors. Read on to learn how.

Sharing Your Story

There are plenty of ways to paint a picture of what working for your organization might be like, but an employee doing it will more than likely resonate a lot more strongly, and connect with a wider audience, than any other way. It’s easy to mistrust a CEO or upper management telling you what life is like for the average employee at their company, but when it comes from the mouth of a team member, it is more likely to ring true.

Giving Context to the Employee Experience

Reading about the perks, benefits, and policies of a company is not quite the same as hearing an employee tell you not only what they are, but how they affect them personally. Real life examples help to humanize things like a casual dress code or flexible hours and make them more real and significant.

Increasing Brand Awareness

You can always increase employer brand awareness through traditional public relations, but there is a certain amount of authenticity that an employee endorsement can offer which these older methods cannot. Employee brand ambassadors will not only make your brand more visible — they get 561% more engagement on social media posts compared to the same post shared by their company — they will give it a positive review from a reliable source.

Taking Part in the Conversation

Social media platforms are going to be there whether or not your company is using them, and a conversation about your employee experience is likely taking place on them whether or not you’re a part of it, too. An employee brand ambassador can take part in that conversation and make sure it’s a more fair and well-rounded one.

Shattering Negative Perceptions

In spite of many company’s best efforts, and regardless of what the truth may or may not be, there are times when a damaging negative perception can have an impact. An employee brand ambassador with an intimate knowledge of your company’s employee experience speaking up on social media is one of the best ways to remedy this issue.

Forecast of Trend #7:  
Social Media Will Become the Search Engine of Choice for Millennials Seeking a Company with a Strong Cultural Fit

If you’re looking to attract top talent to your company, you’re going to want to be in tune with the generation which currently makes up the largest segment of the workforce. By next year, millennials will constitute half of all workers in the U.S., and the ways in which you can reach them are very different from prior generations. You’re going to need to be on social media, and you’re going to need to have a strong reputation there. In 2021, and into the immediate future, that’s going to be the number one place where millennials go to find your company and determine whether or not you’re an employer they want to work for.

Why Millennial Job Seekers are Using Social Media

Here are some of the main reasons why we believe social media will soon become the go-to search engine for millennials seeking employment.

They Can Get an Idea of Your Culture

One aspect that millennials value the most in their employer is company culture. A well-maintained and active social media presence allows them to get an idea of what your culture really is before they submit an application. Conversely, if your company has a subpar social media presence, you’re leaving job seekers in the dark. This might cause you to miss out on great recruitment opportunities every day.

They Can Tune Into Chatter

Former and current employees are able to share their experiences with a company via social media and job seekers are likely to take what they have to say into careful consideration. Peer-to-peer recommendations tend to carry a lot of weight, and social media is the ultimate place to find them.

They Can Acquire Useful Information About You

Important information like benefits, pay, and company policies have never been more readily accessible to the average person than they are today, given the significance of social media. If a job seeker is in need of some specific information regarding your company, they will likely go through a social network to try and find it.


Trend #8:  
Streamlining Operations and Communications With Platform Consolidation

As organizations continue to make do with less, implementing a centralized strategy will be key, and technology will play a critical role in doing so. Many companies already have online platforms for communication, organization, recognition and reward, and data collection, but they are not necessarily gathered in one place. Navigating these tools can be fragmented and messy. In 2021, organizations will begin to clean that mess up by consolidating all of their platforms.

Companies are striving to create a seamless employee journey. Assessing current program inventory and then bringing programs together will reap economies of scale and provide a consistent, accessible conduit for communication. Think of it as creating a Swiss Army knife of platforms. With this utility knife, instead of stuffing your pockets with a blade, a corkscrew, a can opener, a screwdriver, and a file, you can consolidate them all into one convenient tool that attaches right to your key ring. Consolidating platforms is very much the same thing: a simple, smooth, and convenient way to take advantage of all the different tools your company uses, all in one place.

Platform Consolidation and Employee Engagement

Creating a uniform way in which your workforce can connect to one another can be terrific for employee engagement. Below are some of the tools you can combine into one single platform in order to improve upon your organization’s ability to reward, recognize, and communicate.

Employee Recognition

There’s a variety of platforms aimed at helping companies recognize employees for their personal achievements, life events, service anniversaries, retirements, and more. These platforms can be great for engagement, as they allow for visible recognition that other employees can interact with, much like a Facebook or Instagram post.

Social Interaction

Platforms like these are particularly important for companies employing a large number of remote workers. Isolation is proving to be a considerable issue with many work-from-home employees, so allowing them a forum in which they can talk to and make connections with their co-workers can be tremendous for maintaining their engagement, and even for their overall mental health.


Similar to recognition software, only with the capability of giving actual rewards. This simplifies the process of handing out rewards for the employer, particularly when it comes to remote workers.

Real-Time Communication

With this type of platform, calendars, updates, special messages, and other important information can be seamlessly shared with the entire workforce. You no longer have to contend with an employee telling you they didn’t get the memo when it's posted clearly online, timestamp and all.

These tools are all the more useful when they’ve been consolidated onto a single platform. That will be the trend in 2021 and onward. You can also expect to see an increased demand to pull together more disparate technology in order to create a system of operations and communications that’s even more streamlined.

Forecast of Trend #8:    
Holistic Approach Extends to the Internet of Things Apps

In 2020, we may have been separated physically, but we are now more connected through digital channels than ever before. Companies found a way to continue their regular operations through the Internet using a number of different apps and other business tools, and the result was something of a revolution in how organizations are run that will continue to grow. In 2021 and beyond, we predict this revolution to extend to the Internet of Things.

What is the Internet of Things? 

The Internet of Things is a term that was created to describe the network of products, systems, and appliances that are connected to the Internet and therefore able to collect and share data. These items can be anything from children’s toys to burglar alarms to driverless cars to lightbulbs and more. There are over 10 billion devices connected to the Internet of Things today, and this number is expected to double over the course of the next five years. Data collection is one of the key aspects of the Internet of Things, as it allows for a massive amount of information to be gathered passively and used to improve both the devices themselves and the lives of the people who use them.

The Internet of Things and Employee Engagement

When you can cut down on busy work for your employees, you allow them to increase their productivity, which gives them a sense of impact and accomplishment and keeps them engaged. The Internet of things allows for you to cut the fat on that busy work by automating it and taking it out of your worker’s hands. They may seem small, but the convenience of things like smart lighting, smart thermostats, and smart sensors can combine to make more time for your workforce to get to doing what they were hired for.

Considering its already rapid rate of expansion, you can expect that the Internet of Things will be a big part of organizations streamlining their operations and communication in 2021 and beyond, and that it will actually do wonders for productivity.    

Trend #9:  
Automation Frees Up Employees to Focus on Business-Critical Tasks

It shouldn’t be surprising to learn that trends surrounding automation are going to be a mainstay from here on out, but you may be surprised just how many of the trends will prove beneficial to the average worker.

It’s a fairly common belief that automation will inevitably take the place of most human jobs, and therefore the term has taken on a bit of a negative connotation for some, when in reality it may do just as much to improve the jobs of humans than it does to replace them.    

Boring, repetitive tasks are the enemy of both productivity and employee engagement. Spending too much time on this sort of work leaves little room for workers to display their skills or make an impactful contribution to the organization. Fortunately, boring and repetitive tasks are the exact type of thing that automation is best at, and implementing it into your workplace can mean a notable increase in productivity and a more engaged workforce.

Expect to see employees taking advantage of the liberation from mundane tasks that automation can afford them in 2021, and refocusing that freed up time and energy towards more fulfilling and productive work.

Automation and Employee Engagement

It may have a bad reputation as the ultimate job stealer, but believe it or not automation can actually improve employee engagement. Putting the tasks that nobody really wants to do in the hands of computers can boost morale, open up time, and improve the overall employee experience. Read on to learn more.

Higher Quality of Work

When there’s less on an employee’s plate, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have more time to do nothing. It can also mean that they have more time to focus on the part of their job that has not been automated. The result will generally be a higher quality of output, and an employee who is more satisfied with their job.

An Escape from Mundane Tasks

A 2017 survey by McKinsey found that 40% of workers spend a minimum of 25% of their work week doing repetitive tasks. That’s more than two months every year. Mundane and repetitive tasks can be a serious drain on worker morale, and they can drastically affect how one might view their employee experience. Removing that repetition through automation and replacing it with more challenging, complex, creative tasks can make a world of difference for employee engagement.

Greater Sense of Contribution

The aforementioned escape from mundane tasks can also have an effect on how an employee views their contribution to the company. It’s hard to imagine anyone feeling as if they’ve made a significant impact on their organization by doing repetitive work, but the work that can be done when automation takes on those tasks is almost always going to be more meaningful.

Forecast of Trend #9:    
Fear of Personal Job Loss Resulting from Automation

The fear that automation could replace human jobs on a wide scale is a relatively popular one, and it’s not entirely unfounded. A 2017 McKinsey study estimated that automation could be responsible for the loss of between 39 and 73 million jobs in the U.S. by the year 2030. The idea is that, if automation were to reduce the workload on a given job enough, it will render the human employee obsolete. We predict that the accelerated growth in automation following the COVID-19 pandemic will cause this fear to grow in 2021 and beyond. However, it’s not all doom and gloom.

The Truth About Automation

While automation will inevitably eliminate some jobs, it’s also inevitably going to create an array of new jobs, too. The concern should not be about mass unemployment, but rather a mass reskilling of the population. Workers are going to have to learn new skills, either centered around things that robots can’t easily replace or around maintaining and operating the robots that took their jobs.

The same McKinsey study which predicted a tremendous loss of jobs due to automation also had some more positive findings on the topic. Of those 39-73 million predicted displaced workers, it was estimated that around 20 million of them could transition into similar positions with relative ease. But while that does secure jobs for many, it leaves a sizable portion who will have to acquire new skills.

Reskilling the Workforce

When automation poses a threat to your workforce, you’re going to need to pivot in order to retain your valuable employees. This will require making reskilling and upskilling major priorities for your company.

Another McKinsey study spoke to 300 executives of companies valued at more than $100 million about the importance of retraining and reskilling their workforce in order to address issues posed by automation. It found that two-thirds of these companies held this problem in high regard, placing it among their top ten priorities.

Providing your workers with the type of training that makes them less replaceable can help reaffirm their value to the organization and in turn have a positive effect on employee engagement. It should also help to quell some of the growing fears that automation is going to lead to mass unemployment.

Data and Reporting

Trend #10:    
Secure Employee Data Collection Enhances Benefit and Reward Offerings

Data collection is big money for companies like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and it can actually be beneficial for the users whose information is being harvested, too. Provided this is executed in a secure, non-invasive, and ethical way, using data to personalize the experience can improve engagement and help improve the platform altogether. In recent years, these concepts have been applied to the workplace in order to enhance the employee experience. This is a trend that we will continue to grow in 2021.  

Data Collection and the Employee Experience

To ensure that things are mutually beneficial, companies will need to be careful and transparent about how they collect and use employee data. Controversies over data collection in recent years have raised a lot of public awareness about the potential dangers it poses. Because of this, it’s likely to arouse skepticism in employees when they find that their company is engaging in data collection.

Nevertheless, there are safe, secure, non-invasive ways to collect employee data, and when done right, it can greatly enhance the employee experience. Below are some of the ways in which secure collection of employee data can prove beneficial to both you and your workforce.

Personalized Rewards Programs

Nobody knows what motivates someone and makes them feel acknowledged better than that person themselves — except maybe their data. Using employee data, companies can design tailored rewards programs that endeavor to engage and recognize employees and optimize their performance.

Gamifying Employee Rewards and Recognition

Many employees, particularly those of the millennial and Gen Z generations, are motivated by the gamification of the workplace. Data collection can take this concept to another level. High score boards, collected statistics, reward points, and social recognition can all serve to create a system that is interactive and highly engaging.  

Data-Driven Benefits

Choosing benefits can be a complex matter that many employees don’t necessarily give enough thought. Using their own data, you can suggest benefits that might be best suited for them — from the best life insurance or health insurance plan, to how much they might want to invest in their 401k.

Data-Driven Recruitment

Experience, skill, and talent are obviously incredibly important to look for in the recruiting process, but culture fit should never be overlooked. The only issue is that fitness is something that can be difficult to read through a resume and a few interviews. Data can change all of that, using proven metrics in order to determine what makes your workforce tick and what candidates could join your team with success.  

Forecast of Trend #10:    
Increasing Regulations May Limit Data Collection

With employee data collection there is high potential for misuse. It is easy to imagine the emergence of new regulations designed to protect employees from irresponsible employers. Similar regulations have already been passed into law in the EU concerning consumer data. Known as the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, this set of guidelines guarantees certain rights to citizens regarding the collection of their information. We project that an increase in similar regulations in 2021 may limit the collection of employee data.

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a surge in companies investing in employee monitoring technology. With that has come an increasing amount of backlash from employees that feel as if their privacy is being violated by these data collection methods. If these companies can’t strike the appropriate balance between harvesting useful information for the benefit of the company and the employee alike, and affording that employee with a certain amount of privacy, there will undoubtedly be regulatory efforts to come regarding data collection.

Tips for Responsible Employee Data Use

Much like everything else in the past year, companies are going to need to figure out responsible data collection practices on the fly if they want to avoid controversy and use it to move the company forward. Below are some tips to consider when dealing with employee data.

Create an Oversight System

Just as with any functioning form of government, there needs to be a system of checks and balances with employee data collection to avoid any potential abuse of power. This should include placing some power in the hands of employees to determine what level of data collection they are willing to allow.

Avoid Using Data for Punishment

Employee data collection can quickly become an Orwellian nightmare if an organization begins using it to keep tabs on employees in order to penalize them. This should be avoided as much as possible and data should instead be used to recognize and reward.

Total Transparency

Every employee should know what sort of data is being collected, why it’s being collected, and how it can ultimately benefit both them and the company. If an organization doesn’t enforce a policy of transparency with its data collection, regulations ultimately will.

Create New Roles to Ensure Responsible Use

Some companies are going the extra mile to avoid controversy with data collection by creating new positions designed to safeguard against misuse. Most often that position is a chief data officer, or CDO. The CDO is assigned the task of overseeing the management of all employee data and ensuring its responsible use.    


Trend #11:   
Connecting the Physical and Digital Worlds

Emails have long been the standard for digital communication in the workplace, but in 2021, that standard is set to change. With workforces now scattered across the country, and in some cases the globe, organizations have become increasingly reliant on digital methods of communication, particularly when it comes to employee recognition. Impersonal emails are no longer enough to maintain the level of engagement necessary for a high-quality employee experience.

Employee engagement software has proven to be a great way to reach the workforce more effectively, but in the near future, organizations will take things a step further by going full circle and returning their communications into the physical world. This can mean more face-to-face digital communication through Zoom and other apps; virtual activities where employees are able to connect on a more personal level; or physical rewards received through the mail. Whatever their method may be, the better an organization can merge the realms of the digital and the physical, the more likely they are to maintain an engaged workforce.

Bringing the Physical World into a Digital Workplace

Traditional methods of digital communication are not going to cut it in 2021. Here are some tips for injecting human connection into the digital workplace so that you can keep your employees engaged and feeling acknowledged.

Changing Up the Zoom Meeting

Zoom meetings have become the standard for most workplaces that employ remote workers. They are certainly more effective and more human than email, a way to communicate in both large groups and one-to-one chats. Still, you can improve the Zoom experience by merging the physical and digital worlds. During one-to-one meetings, try Zooming over the phone so that you and your employee can step outside and enjoy the outdoors. You can even introduce one another to family or give virtual tours of your homes or neighborhoods. This can help combat some of the isolation and disconnection that your remote workers might be feeling and keep them more engaged.

Virtual Connection Outside of Work

Using your employee engagement software, you can help to foster greater connections between employees by setting up virtual activities outside of work hours. Some companies allow for virtual happy hours, talent shows, or game nights. These kinds of activities offer a more relaxed environment in which your workforce can communicate and bond, and a way in which those communications can effectively extend into the physical world.

Employee Rewards by Mail

Although there are more efficient and convenient methods now available for the sharing of information, there’s still something uniquely gratifying about correspondence through the mail. Sure, you could send a digital gift card directly to your employee in a matter of seconds if you wanted to reward and recognize them, but a thoughtful, hand-written note received in their mailbox is always so personal and impactful. This is the ultimate way to merge the digital and physical worlds.

Forecast of Trend #11:    
Personalization will Strengthen the Employee Experience

As your employee engagement platform continues to collect more employee data, your ability to personalize communications is going to increase exponentially. Because employees are having their information gathered, they will in turn expect that you are using it to do things that are useful to them. Data can be used to help you remember their preferences, create personalized messages, or tailor rewards to their specific tastes. This reciprocity will help strengthen the overall employee experience in 2021.

Flexibility and adaptability are key characteristics of any organization that successfully navigated last year, and that will remain true as we continue to navigate 2021 and beyond, particularly in the realm of employee communication. Messages are received more effectively when they are tailored to their audience, and employee engagement software makes this easier than ever before.

Personalizing Employee Communication

Employee engagement software can do much of the grunt work of collecting employee data for you, but you must organize the data in order to create effective personalized messages. Here are some tips for translating that data into increased employee engagement.

Consider the Employee Lifecycle

In the same way you wouldn’t give an advanced calculus test to a new math student and expect them to understand it, your communications shouldn’t assume too much company knowledge from a new employee. Messages should be tailored to where employees currently reside to reach them most effectively.

Create Groups

You don’t have the time to personalize your communications to every individual employee, but that’s also not entirely necessary. You can break down your workforce into smaller groups that are likely to respond well to the same styles of communication. This can mean organizing by department, geographical location, interests, level of experience, or any other shared characteristic.

Take Advantage of Technology

There is employee engagement software available that can go beyond simply collecting employee data for you. Some programs allow for the creation of personalized internal messages using the data it collects. These programs offer filters that break your workforce down into groups for targeted messaging that is both effective and engaging. Taking advantage of this kind of technology can not only increase employee engagement, it can also streamline your work and make your life easier.

Engagement and Measurement

Trend #12:    
Redefining Work/Life Balance to Work/Life Blend

With so many employees now working from home either permanently or for the foreseeable future, work and life are blending together like never before. Maintaining a good work/life balance has become significantly more challenging. Working remotely may result in increased productivity, but employees having their place of work and their place of rest become one in the same can make it difficult to “turn off” and afford themselves the opportunity to recharge, even after they step away from the computer.

Organizations that are maintaining or increasing engagement levels in the face of these new obstacles are doing so by meeting them with empathy and allowing for a setting of boundaries. They recognize that just because a remote employee has the ability to work or remain in contact most hours of the day doesn’t mean they should be expected to do so. An overstepping of these boundaries will quickly result in employees feeling burned out, overwhelmed, and overworked, which is where engagement begins to fall off.

In 2021, the harmony that many workers will seek between their office and home lives won’t be so much of a work/life balance as it will be a work/life blend. As an employer seeking to keep your workforce engaged, you’re going to have to do what you can to help them find that blend.

Helping Employees Find Their Work/Life Blend

There may be some obvious limitations on how much you can help remote workers successfully blend their work and home lives, but it’s imperative that you do everything that you can do for the well-being of both your employees and the organization. Below are some tips for helping employees make a healthy transition to the world of working from home.

Address Things Directly

Tackling any obstacle generally requires an acknowledgment of the obstacle’s existence first. In your communications with remote workers, make it clear that you’re looking to help them find a way to successfully blend their work and life experiences into something productive and healthy on both ends. Addressing the challenge not only brings clarity to the situation, it also lets employees know they are supported and that their mental health is a priority.

Allow for Boundaries

The aforementioned setting of boundaries is an all-important aspect of maintaining employee engagement for remote workers. Be sure that they know they have the agency to establish some guidelines for when they are going to be working and when they are not. Without any kind of framework, some of your workforce is liable to completely lose the “life” portion of their work/life blend, while others are liable to lose the “work” portion.

Of course, you can’t guarantee that their work will remain within those boundaries without fail, but allowing them to establish a framework for their work/life blend affords employees with some much-needed autonomy and is a sign that you respect their lives outside of the virtual office.

Mental Health Check-Ins

Without a doubt, you will be checking in on your remote workers to ensure that they are remaining productive, but you’re going to need to go a step further to ensure that they also remain engaged. Remote work presents its own set of built-in obstacles, but with the events of the past year still weighing heavily on many of us, there’s a whole other set of obstacles for your virtual workforce to overcome. Don’t just check on what your remote employees are doing, check on how they’re doing.

Forecast of Trend #12:    
Wellbeing will Become an Essential Indicator of a Positive Employee Experience

As we continue to live with uncertainty in 2021, it will be critical for employers to address mental and emotional burnout in their workforce. Organizations that make an effort to show compassion and provide flexibility to their employees as they juggle challenges and obligations in both their personal and professional lives will see a subsequent increase in the care and dedication that these employees give to their work and to the organization. This reciprocal relationship will result in higher levels of employee engagement.

While mental health awareness has been on the rise in the workplace, and in society as a whole, for several years now, the total upheaval of everyday life brought about by the pandemic has made it an even more pressing matter. In 2021, as the pandemic continues to negatively affect so many people across the planet, organizations must place greater emphasis on the mental well-being of their workforce.

Improving the way your organization approaches employee mental health can be done on a personal level, through regular check-ins and an overall increased sensitivity to mental health issues, or at the organizational level, by providing greater mental health resources and mental health benefits to all employees. However it’s done, organizations that put a strong emphasis on mental well-being will in turn greatly enhance the employee experience.

Trend #13:    
Offering Workplace Wellness and Mental Health Support

In response to staggering numbers regarding the spike in mental health and substance abuse issues following the COVID-19 pandemic, more organizations are now including a corporate wellness program as part of their employee engagement strategy. These wellness programs include expanded mental health and substance abuse support as well as fitness programs.

Health and wellness are directly connected to the productivity, performance, and engagement level of employees. That’s why it’s critical for organizations to hone in on the ways that they can support the mental and physical health of their workforce. Competitive benefits that prioritize wellness and mental health are critical to employee retention and can be the thing that makes an organization stand above the rest when trying to attract top talent and increase employee engagement in 2021 and beyond.

The COVID-19 Pandemic’s Effect on Health and Wellness

The profound effect of the events of 2020 on the mental well-being of people across the planet is not necessarily something that requires surveys, studies, and statistics to observe or understand. However, taking a look at some of the numbers can help contextualize how much strife the pandemic has caused, and how critical it is for organizations to acknowledge this and take appropriate action.

Anxiety and Depression

Without social outlets, travel, and physical activity, and with many struggling with their health or finances, mental health has seen a dramatic decline since March 2020 when lockdowns began in the United States. According to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, around 4 in 10 adults in the U.S. have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder in the past year. That number marks a significant jump from 2019 in which 1 in 10 people reported these same symptoms.

While vaccines continue to be administered and restrictions are slowly lifting, the struggle is not yet over, and the total effects of the pandemic have yet to be measured. In the meantime, organizations can do their part by prioritizing health and wellness in policies, programs, and employee benefits.

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse often coincides with mental health struggles, which means that the dramatic rise of anxiety and depression due to the pandemic has resulted in an equally dramatic rise in alcohol use. According to a 2021 survey of 5,850 people who drink alcohol conducted by the NYU School of Global Public Health, 29% reported an increase in their consumption during the pandemic. People with depression were found to be 64% more likely to be among that 29%, while those with anxiety were found to be 41% more likely.

This disproportionate representation is no coincidence, and the real numbers could be considerably higher than reported, as substance abuse disorders often thrive on a lack of acknowledgment from the sufferer. If organizations in 2021 want to ensure the overall health and well-being of their workforce and improve employee engagement, they need to become even more cognizant of and accommodating to those who are struggling with this disease.

Forecast of Trend #14   
Expansion of Mental Health Benefits

In 2021 and beyond, mental health benefits will be in greater demand as employees acclimate themselves to new ways of working, both remotely and with isolating technology. From access to both in-person and video counseling to increased paid time off and parental leave to greater overall flexibility, the organizations that prioritize mental health in the benefits they offer will see a significant increase in employee engagement.

In conjunction with the above mental health benefits, companies will further work to destigmatize mental health issues by offering leadership training and stress management programs. This will create a workforce that is more educated about mental health, and more able to identify those in need. Ultimately, it will also create a workplace culture focused on health and wellness.

Mental Health Benefits in 2021

Our understanding of mental health is always expanding, and the very definition of the term is also evolving. Therefore, what constitutes a “mental health benefit” in 2021 and beyond is going to be both broader and more specific than ever before. Read on to get an idea of what kind of benefits your organization can offer employees in an effort to help them improve their mental health.

Mental Health Days

The concept of a day off that doesn’t involve a debilitating illness or a gravely serious non-work related responsibility would likely be laughed at, mocked, or even scorned by previous generations, but things are different today. A deeper understanding of how mental health can affect productivity and employee engagement is now allowing more companies to feel a bit better about letting employees take a breather once in a while. It may be heresy to the older members of your workforce, but they may very well be the ones who need the head-clearing time off most.

Greater Flexibility

It’s easier than ever to allow for more freedom in when, where, and how long your employees work. Many organizations are becoming more flexible in an effort to support a workforce that has been met with unprecedented strain on their mental health over the past year. Being flexible shows your employees that you respect them as human beings, and in turn increases their engagement.

Fitness Benefits

Few things have a greater effect on mental health than physical health. Exercise is proven to decrease symptoms of anxiety, improve self-esteem, and quite literally boost happiness by increasing the production of mood-enhancing brain chemicals. When you support your employee’s physical health by providing them with healthy food, gym memberships, yoga classes, and other wellness benefits, you are also supporting their mental health.

Budget and Finance

Trend #14:    
Recognizing Opportunities to Increase Efficiency

Organizations in 2021 are going to be expected to do more with less. Smaller budgets, smaller payrolls, and less resources overall will lead to innovation for HR teams looking to continue forward, and that innovation will be centered around streamlining processes for greater efficiency.

Organizations are streamlining their operations by outsourcing programs and renting gig or contract workers more than ever before, and by using automation technology to minimize or even eliminate manual tasks. Increasing the efficiency of these processes will not only lessen their impact on the budget, it will allow for increased productivity by reducing time spent on repetitive and unproductive tasks.

Increasing Efficiency Through the Gig Economy

Renting talent is becoming more and more popular every year, and the events of 2020 have accelerated that pace even more. A survey conducted by Monster.com following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic found that 92% of people thought they should start looking for jobs in the gig economy. With so many people out of work, the swift and temporary nature of freelance work became an enticing proposal to anyone with marketable skills, resulting in a 25% leap in the demand for gig work.

The dark clouds may finally be dispersing as vaccinations are underway, but that doesn’t mean the gig economy is going anywhere. As previously stated, it was on the rise for several years prior to the pandemic, and the forced transition in 2020 has allowed organizations and talent alike to both acclimate to gig work and recognize its benefits. Look for it to continue growing at a steady pace moving forward.

For organizations, one of the real benefits of hiring through the gig economy is the increase in efficiency that it can allow. Hiring ready-made experts who are not in need of training to contribute to a specific project can trim much of the fat that would generally come with developing full-time hires. Not only that, but it can save organizations a lot of money by allowing them to essentially only pay for the work they need.

Increasing Efficiency Through Automation

Automation is a cost-efficient way to streamline processes in order to free up employee time, thereby improving both productivity and employee engagement. Read on for some suggestions on how to automate your organization’s operations and increase efficiency.


The hiring process can be a tedious one. Your recruitment team can wind up with a ton of resumes to sort through, applicants to screen, emails to send out, and interviews to conduct, when in the end only a handful of potential candidates will have met all the criteria you’re looking for. With recruitment automation, you can quickly eliminate many of the applicants who don’t qualify, send out emails instantly and automatically, and even give preliminary interviews by sending out questions for candidates to answer.


Payroll is important, but it is also time-consuming and prone to error. Messing up employee pay, or making a mistake on company taxes, are two issues most organizations would love to avoid. With automated payroll, you can greatly reduce the potential for errors, seamlessly create records and reports, simplify taxes, and save a ton of time. It’s a no-brainer for organizations looking to streamline processes and improve efficiency.

Customer Support

Ensuring that customers have a line of communication to your organization at all times is key, but not always possible when that line of communication is a human employee who simply cannot work around the clock. With chatbots, you can automate your customer support so that their questions can be answered any time of day, any day of the week.

Forecast of Trend #14:   
Re-appropriating Unused Budgets to Fund New Programs

The sudden shake-up caused by the COVID-19 pandemic left many organizations with unused funds that were previously allocated to things that became obsolete in the face of lockdowns, such as experiential rewards and in-office perks. You can expect that the unused budget will be reallocated in 2021 to perks and rewards more suited to the current conditions.

Gift Cards

Companies in 2021 will ensure that their perks and rewards are not only remote-friendly but versatile in order to accommodate the whole workforce. You can expect that gift cards, particularly e-gift cards, will have a surge in popularity for their ability to cover both of these bases. Gift cards can easily be distributed through the mail or email, and they offer a wide range of choices as well as opportunities for personalization based on an employee’s particular interests.


In a world that’s still very limited in terms of opportunities for travel and other experiences, material goods are a far safer bet for organizations looking to recognize and reward their employees. Gift cards may provide a level of versatility that merchandise does not, but they are also a bit less personal. Expect that merchandise will still be a form of reward this year and beyond.

Download a pdf of this report, here.