The HR trends you can't ignore in 2021

Gartner’s research has revealed a number of trends that will inform people decisions this year.

Based on research from Gartner and conversations with senior HR leaders, Brian Kropp, group vice president and chief of HR research at ‎Gartner offers predictions for trends that HR leaders can’t afford to ignore in 2021.

He points out that in the past year, HR took the lead in responding to a wide range of internal and external pressures, from employee wellbeing to new workforce models.

Some of the trends that Kropp highlights are:

  • Employers will shift from managing the employee experience to managing the life experience of their employees

Business leaders now have  increased visibility into the personal lives of their employees due to the pandemic. As a result, employers now realise that supporting employees in the entirety of their lives, not only as employees, directly affects their work performance.

Gartner’s 2020 ReimagineHR Employee Survey found that employers who support employees with their life experience see a more than 20 percent increase in the number of employees reporting better mental and physical health.

  • More companies will adopt a stance on societal and political issues

More and more people want to work for organisations with comparable cultural values. Gartner research shows that 74 percent of employees expect their employer to become more actively involved in the cultural debates of the day.

  • The gender-wage gap will continue to increase as employees return to the workplace

Many organisations are planning to, or have already adopted a hybrid workforce, enabling employees to work from the corporate office, their home, or some alternate location such as a coffee shop or co-working space.

HR leaders are reporting that within their teams, men are more likely to decide to return to their workplace and women are more likely to continue to work remotely. A recent Gartner survey indicates that 64 percent of managers believe that office workers perform better than those who work from home and are likely to reward in-office workers over remote workers.

If men are more likely to come into the office, we could see managers over-rewarding male employees at the expense of female staff.


  • New regulations will limit employee monitoring.

In the past year, companies have invested in technology to passively track and monitor their employees. However, many of these same companies haven’t determined how to balance employee privacy with the technology, and employees are frustrated.

In 2021, emerging regulations will start to put limits on the type of tracking employers can do. Gartner research found that less than 50 percent of employees trust their organisation with their data, and 44 percent don’t receive any information regarding the data collected about them.

  • Flexibility will shift from location to time

In 2021, we expect to see a rise of new jobs where employees will be measured by their output, as opposed to an agreed-upon set of hours. Gartner’s 2020 ReimagineHR Employee Survey revealed that only 36 percent of employees were high performers at organisations with a standard 40-hour work week.

  • Access to Covid-19 vaccines

Employers that provide the Covid-19 vaccine to their workforce will leverage this opportunity as a key differentiator to attract and retain talent. On the flipside, several companies may face legal action for making it mandatory for employees to have proof of vaccination before allowing them to return to the workplace. The legal contestation may slow the return to the workplace even as vaccines are administered to more people.

  • Mental health support will expand

The Covid-19 pandemic has sharpened the focus on wellbeing, with employers now more aware than ever of the impact of mental health on employees and by extension, the workplace. By late March of 2020, 68 percent of organisations had introduced at least one new wellness benefit to help employees during the pandemic. In 2021, employers will go even further and expand mental health benefits.

  • Employers will “rent” talent to fill the skills gap

The number of skills that employers are looking for has increased sharply. Gartner analysis shows that companies listed about 33 percent more skills on job ads in 2020 than they did in 2017. Many organisations can’t reskill their existing workforce fast enough to meet their changing needs and will ramp up their use of contract hiring to address the skills deficit.

  • Jurisdictions will compete to attract talent rather than trying to get companies to relocate

The new age of remote and hybrid work means that employees aren’t as tied to their employer’s location as they were in the past. This separation between company location and employee location will lead countries to start using their tax policies to incentivise individuals to come and work in their jurisdiction.