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HR Trends in 2022: The Year of the Employee

If we were to sum up the state of the American workplace – in catchphrases – over the past couple of years, 2020 would be “The New Normal” and 2021 “The Great Resignation.”

So, what about 2022?

Based on current trends, 2022 will likely be: The Year of the Employee

There has been a fundamental and seismic shift in the workplace that goes beyond the historic back-and-forth transfer of power between "employee" and "employer" markets. Today, employees want a new relationship with their employers.

Employees also want to work for an organization that:

  • Values their skillset
  • Views them as more than a timesheet
  • Cares about their wellbeing
  • Contributes to the greater good
  • Rewards them with a fair compensation package and time off

Triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, underlying forces that have been building in the labor market for years—decades even—seemingly reached a boiling point in 2021.

From a worker's point of view, workplace factors that prompted this phenomenon include:

  • Growing employee disengagement and burnout
  • Struggling manager-employee relationships
  • Inadequate compensation and benefits packages
  • Inflexible work schedules
  • Insufficient growth opportunities

The result?

In April 2021, a record 4 million people quit their jobs, launching the "Great Resignation"—a term coined by Dr. Anthony Klotz, Associate Professor of Management at Mays Business School at Texas A&M University.

Unfortunately, that record has been shattered again and again in 2021, with 4.2 million workers quitting in July, 4.3 million in August, 4.4 million in September, and 4.2 million in October, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) “Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey.”

In short, one in four workers quit their job in 2021—a trend many employers would like to end in 2022.

Though the COVID-19 pandemic will remain a part of our landscape in 2022. It is slowly moving from a global health crisis to a tipping point in time that changed how we work, play, interact, and respond. As companies navigate the "work" part of the equation, human resources personnel or teams are tasked with strengthening employer-employee relationships to ensure business viability and sustainability.

Through the years, the role of HR has evolved, in breadth and depth, to include a broad range of services that support employers and employees, usher in cultural change, and foster innovative talent in the workplace.

Following are HR Trends to Follow in 2022.

Arresting the Great Resignation Requires Boosting Employee Engagement

The instability of the present labor market is not sustainable for employers and employees alike. Even though many American workers currently have more options than usual, most still want to work for a company they love—or at least like—for the long term. And business owners bearing the brunt of the current "Turnover Tsunami" are ready for the storm to subside.

So, what will it take to stem the tide of "The Great Resignation?"

Taking proactive steps to make employee engagement a top priority in your organization is a good start.

"Engaged employees are those who are all in. They believe in your business' vision and the work they do. They see themselves as an extension of the company and are truly invested in helping achieve its goals," says Amy Turner, Manager of Strategic HR Advisory Services for G&A Partners. "They also understand the meaning behind every task or function, how it relates to the bigger picture, and the impact they have on the company’s success.”

According to Gallup's "U.S. Employee Engagement Holds Steady in First Half of 2021" by Jim Harter, only

of U.S. employees are engaged in their work and workplace

36%

of U.S. employees are actively looking for new employment or watching for openings

74%

These indicators make a strong case for boosting engagement in your organization. If your employees aren't engaged in their work, they are less productive and, often, the quality of their work declines. This impacts workplace culture, customer service levels, and, ultimately, your business's bottom line.

How HR Can Help Boost Employee Engagement in 2022

The message is clear: Dissatisfied workers are more likely to look for another job. As a result, your HR representative or partner plays a crucial role in advising you and your managers about the changes you can make and steps you can take to attract and retain valuable employees.

Following are five areas where your HR team can focus to help boost engagement levels in your organization:

  • Employee Development: Effective employee training programs have been linked to improved retention and engagement rates. Show your employees that you value them—and their career pathways—by helping them develop their skills. Create mentorship programs that encourage management, peer, and intergenerational skill-sharing and collaboration networks. If you don't have the budget for an in-house professional development program, there are comprehensive online learning-management systems that can be scaled and adapted to your company’s needs.
  • Company Culture: An inspiring and supportive culture helps employees feel more connected to their employer, particularly if they see how their work contributes to the organization’s mission and goals. On the other hand, a wayward company culture can breed negativity, reduce productivity, and increase employee turnover. If your current culture doesn't reflect your ideals and goals, reevaluate your company's policies, procedures, and practices from the ground up to determine the disconnect(s). Then, take proactive steps to align them with your organization's vision and mission.
  • Manager-Employee Relationships: A good employee-manager relationship heavily influences employee engagement, and the most effective managers are equal parts leader, coach, mentor, and advocate. Consider adopting situational leadership as your company's management style. This customizable approach focuses on leading with empathy, encourages managers to continually assess each employee's skill level and unique needs, and fluctuates as employees learn and grow or their needs change.
  • Transparency and Open Communication: Employees want to be in the loop—and they want to be heard. Create a work environment where your employees feel comfortable talking openly and honestly with you and your leadership team. Communicate often and in various ways with employees and encourage them to ask questions and share feedback. Also, use employee surveys to gather feedback and measure employee engagement in your workplace. This HR tool helps you gauge employees' interests, motivation, and happiness, and you can use the feedback to create a blueprint for improving employee retention.
  • Rewards and Recognition: Employees want to feel valued by their employers. Compensation packages are essential—and do contribute to employee satisfaction—but rewards and recognition can also significantly impact engagement. Employees who feel that their managers and senior leadership teams recognize their contributions are more likely to continue working hard and putting in the extra effort.

Acknowledging the Mental Health Crisis and Supporting Worker Well-being

The public spotlight landed squarely on mental health and wellness in 2020 and has only grown brighter since. In a Q&A with Fast Company (December 6, 2021), Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, says we are at the beginning of a "mental health awakening" that is directly impacting the workplace. "Many people around the world have been stuck in jobs that didn't bring them joy, and now they're putting their mental health and happiness first," he says.

The challenges and tragedies brought about by the collective impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, political turmoil, and societal unrest have prompted a mental health crisis that continues today.

"Employers have an important role to play in combating the stigma around mental health in the workplace and encouraging employees to seek the help they need," according to The Hartford's "2021 Future of Benefits Study: Employee Benefits Trends and Silver Linings of the Pandemic."

Many employees—some for the first time in their lives—have experienced anxiety, depression, burnout, stress, weight gain, or substance use, and these issues have unintentionally crept into the workplace. In addition to seeking help from or through employers, workers want a healthy work/life balance and are lobbying for changes that will help create that equilibrium.

"Mental wellness programs are especially important now because the workforce is really struggling. Nearly half of the workforce suffers from some type of mental health issue," says Laura Sage, CEO of Chill Anywhere, in HR Morning's "2022 workplace trends: What HR needs to know – and do – now" by Michele McGovern. "The consequences of a team that is mentally unhealthy include poor culture, high turnover, and high absenteeism."

How HR Can Support Workers' Mental Health and Well-Being in 2022

The mental health awakening provides your company with an opportunity to create a culture that embraces mental health wellness and supports employees—without fear of judgment or retribution—who seek help when they need it.

Following are best practices and resources to consider when developing a holistic mental health strategy:

  • Implement an Employee Assistance Program (EAP): An employee assistance program provides confidential access to outside counselors, resources, and referrals—helping employees address personal and work-related issues that may be affecting their job performance or mental health and well-being. An EAP can also provide an array of supplemental benefits that help employees lead healthier lives, such as nutritional lifestyle education, debt management, retirement planning, and childcare or elder-care services.
  • Encourage Empathetic Leadership and Mental Health Training: Flexible, compassionate leaders help reduce employee burnout and improve job satisfaction. Train leaders and managers on how to lead with empathy, support employees, and recognize and respond to mental health warning signs and triggers such as a decrease in or lack of productivity, absenteeism, and behavioral changes.
  • Create a Culture of Psychological Safety: Though it is not an employer's place to diagnose a mental health issue, creating a culture of psychological safety opens the door to conversations with employees when you notice job performance issues or signs of mental-health suffering. Showing care and compassion for a colleague who might be anxious or depressed also demonstrates your commitment to them as a person—not just as an employee.
  • Practice Stress Mitigation and Burnout Prevention Techniques: According to Korn Ferry's "The 7 areas dominating future of work trends in 2022," 89% of professionals report that they are suffering from burnout, and 81% say they are more burned out now than at the start of the pandemic. Company policies that focus on employee well-being, such as flexible work scheduling and family leave, help foster resilience and reduce stress and burnout in the workplace. Also, encourage employees to take short breaks throughout the day, non-working lunch breaks, and avoid checking emails or working on weekends and holidays.

Cultivating Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives that Transform Teams and Drive Innovation

Throughout 2021, efforts to close gender, racial, and disability disparity gaps have increased. But there is still work to be done. Employees and job candidates continue to look to companies—large and small—to champion and advance diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. This includes implementing changes and progressing programs that support the full spectrum of skills and qualities that employees bring to the workplace—including different cultures, races, backgrounds, abilities, genders, generations, and cognitive and educational levels.

"DEI is more than creating a list of diversity goals and checking them off," says Lucy Garcia, a Client Advocate and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) expert for G&A Partners. "Businesses should embrace DEI principles and weave them into their company culture, programs and processes so that they take root and thrive."

Companies have a lot to gain through DEI initiatives. Research shows that teams of people from different races, genders, educational levels, cultures, generations, and backgrounds are more innovative, creative, and productive. Differences spur ideas, debate, creativity, energy, excitement, and a sense of friendly competition that can improve performance.

"Research shows that 67% of job seekers value workplace diversity when evaluating potential employers," states Training Industry's "Exploring DEI Trends and Initiatives for 2022," by Naomi Phillips. Therefore, employers that want to attract and retain qualified employees should step up DEI efforts.

How HR Can Promote DEI Initiatives in 2022

HR leaders who champion DEI recognize that societal and cultural expectations dictate that now is the time to move from setting goals to making inclusion the norm in the workplace.

Steps you can take to propel your company's DEI efforts from planning to action include:

  • Creating a DEI Program (if you haven't already): Start your DEI programming effort by establishing a DEI workgroup or task force to conduct research, gather employee feedback, design a foundational strategy, set goals and objectives, and promote resulting initiatives. Communicate DEI initiative details to employees and continually evaluate and update the program.
  • Implementing a Robust and Inclusive Training Program: Diversity officers and DEI teams should work closely with HR to create training initiatives that promote change throughout the organization. These include educating executives, managers, and employees. Training programs can take on many forms, including team-building exercises, workshops, online courses, mentorship programs, and more. Include members of underrepresented employee groups when planning and developing your training protocols.
  • Reviewing Your Recruiting and Retention Programs: Evaluate your company's recruiting, hiring, and retention practices to ensure they work in tandem with your company's DEl initiatives. Key recommendations include creating and implementing an inclusive hiring and onboarding process, establishing a diverse talent pipeline within your organization, and incorporating DEI into manager selection and training to ensure diversity in leadership roles.
  • Creating a Safe Space to Have Hard Discussions: For some, conversations about diversity—and changes that need to be made—can be uncomfortable. But, without them, it's challenging to make real progress. Create a space where employees can ask hard questions, voice opinions, discuss viewpoints, and make suggestions for change without the fear of rejection or retaliation. Adopt a zero-tolerance policy for discriminatory behaviors and include a mechanism for reporting discrimination that ensures privacy and rejects retaliation of any kind.

Attracting and Retaining Workers in a Tight Labor Market Requires Creativity and Resolve

Companies will continue to face fierce competition in their battle to retain employees and recruit candidates for open positions in 2022. The current labor crunch has many contributing causes, but the two that loom most prominent are the huge reopening and expansion of businesses after last year's lockdowns—and the subsequent need to hire or rehire workers—coupled with Americans quitting in record numbers and demanding higher pay, expanded benefits, and better working conditions before returning to work.

Tony Landry, Benefits Account Executive for G&A Partners, says that in addition to enhancing salaries, businesses may need to rethink their employee benefits offerings to attract quality candidates and encourage them to stay.

"But don't stop there," he says. "You have to let your employees know about the benefits you offer and explain how they work. Have conversations with them, get feedback from them, and let them know you are providing these benefits because you value your employees and want them to stay."

The latest BLS labor market statistics are less than encouraging, with job openings soaring past 11 million in October 2021 and 6.9 million unemployed as of November 2021 (the BLS monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary lags its unemployment report by one month). Almost 34 million workers voluntarily left their jobs in the first 10 months of 2021.

Consulting firm Korn Ferry surveyed 700 workers in September 2021 and found that the top three reasons employees are leaving their jobs include:

  • Reevaluation of priorities amid the pandemic (30%)
  • A lack of a clear advancement path in their organization (24%)
  • Demand for better pay and benefits (23%)

How HR Can Strengthen Recruitment and Retention Strategies in 2022

Eleesha Martin, Manager of Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO) Services for G&A Partners, recommends taking proactive steps to advance your company's recruitment and retention strategies because the average cost of replacing just one employee ranges from one-third to two times their annual salary.

Steps to retain your best employees and position your company for success in today's talent wars include:

  • Investing in Your Employees' Careers: Formulate clear and transparent career paths and succession plans for your employees. Encourage their progress and provide regular feedback through one-on-one meetings, performance appraisal tools, and training programs. Ask employees what they want to achieve in their role—and with your organization—and help them map out a pathway to help them grow in their chosen career.
  • Offering a Competitive Compensation Package: Ensure that your salary structure is in line with or exceeds that of your competition and match that with a benefits package that holistically addresses workers' mental, physical, and financial well-being. If you are concerned about the cost of expanding your benefits offerings, consider partnering with a professional employer organization (PEO) such as G&A Partners to access its collective buying power.
  • Expand Your Traditional Talent Pool: There are millions of “nontraditional” candidates who have the knowledge, skills, and potential to add value to your organization—but who are often overlooked due to hiring processes that can unintentionally exclude them from consideration. These include caregivers, veterans, immigrants and refugees, retirees, people with physical or mental nonconformities, individuals who do not have a degree, and those who have gaps in their employment history or have experienced difficult times and need a second chance in the workforce.
  • Streamline Your Recruiting and Hiring Processes: Today, many job seekers say they are likely to ignore a job opening—or even "ghost" a recruiter if a company's processes are lengthy, complicated, or outdated. Review job descriptions to ensure that skills, experience, and education requirements align with the position's role and responsibilities and avoid detailed or lengthy job descriptions. Consider using an Applicant Tracking System (ATS), which can help you manage and track your applicant pipelines by sourcing, tracking, and interacting with candidates throughout the hiring process.

Shifting From Required Remote Work to Optional Hybrid Schedules

Until 2020, the typical American workplace was almost a cliché—not unlike the one portrayed in the 1999 comedy film “Office Space,” written and directed by Mike Judge. However, that stereotype shattered after March 2020, when millions of nonessential employees were required to quarantine and work from home for months—even years. Now, in the waning days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the “typical” American workplace is a distant memory. In its place are options to explore in 2022.

“When it comes to where we work, there will continue to be three main models—centralized workplaces; decentralized, remote organizations; and the hybrid ‘best of both worlds’ approach,” states Forbes’ “Future Of Work: The 5 Biggest Workplace Trends In 2022” by Bernard Marr.

Though some employees returned to in-person work in 2021—and essential employees never really left—many are still working remotely. A global survey conducted by McKinsey found that up to 75% of employees would like to work from home at least two days per week, and just under 65% of people prefer the ability to work from home over a $30,000 pay increase. Employees realize cost savings associated with reduced commute time and fewer lunches, and companies reap benefits through increased employee productivity and a possible reduction in office-related expenses.

“Another positive aspect of a hybrid work environment is access to a global talent pool because the work location becomes less of a hiring factor,” says Tina Rouse, an HR Advisor for G&A Partners. “Some candidates can work remotely and not have to relocate and employers won’t have high relocation costs.”

According to Global Analytics/Iometrics’ Global Work-From-Home Experience Survey, approximately 31% of the workforce worked from home or a remote location more than one day a week pre-pandemic. That number shot up to 88% after COVID-19 lockdown measures were introduced, with most of the remaining 12% required to report to the workplace because they were considered essential workers. Approximately 70% of managers who participated in the survey said employee productivity and performance during the pandemic was the same or better than before lockdown.

Allow HR to Champion Hybrid Work Strategies in 2022

Because there is no one-size-fits-all hybrid workplace model, developing your organization’s unique strategy will require careful thought and planning to accommodate your employees’ needs, company culture, and business reality.

HR’s role will be essential and complex, so consider the following recommendations:

  • Involve Employees in Your Planning and Implementation Processes: Form a hybrid workplace team that includes representatives from all major departments/divisions and task them with helping to plan, execute, and modify your long-term hybrid workplace strategy. Also, survey employees to get ideas and feedback—including those employee’s whose positions do not allow them to work remotely—and communicate your hybrid workplace strategy/plan consistently and carefully.
  • Address Unique Hybrid Workplace Challenges from the Start: Determine how you will build connections between in-office and remote workers and how you will support employees who manage them. Establish a level playing field for all employees, and make sure everyone has access to the same opportunities. Persevere until your hybrid workplace model becomes part of your company culture. Adapt to meet your employees’ changing needs, and never stop learning.
  • Create Clear and Concise Remote Work Guidelines: If your company does not have a hybrid workplace policy, create one that outlines and clarifies expectations. If you created one during the pandemic, review and modify it to reflect your long-term hybrid workplace strategy. Ensure that it is all-inclusive and incorporates guidelines and procedures for employees working at the workplace and in remote locations. Your policy should also clarify which positions qualify for remote work, when and where remote work takes place and detailed work schedules for employees when in the workplace and home office. Make sure your hybrid workplace policy is in your employee handbook.
  • Train Managers to Manage Remote Teams: One of the biggest challenges of managing remote teams is building trust. Those who are used to a more supervisory management approach may have a difficult time managing remote workers because they cannot see what their employees are doing at any given time. A shift to situational leadership style—or an increased focus on coaching rather than directing—may produce better results and help motivate team members.

Focus on Your Organization’s Future by Capitalizing on Lessons Learned During the Pandemic

The past two years have been difficult and taxing on business owners, but they also served up invaluable lessons. Organizations that have weathered the pandemic’s various storms are more resilient, robust, and innovative for doing so. Small and medium-sized businesses that pivoted quickly by adopting new ways to deliver products and services are positioned to grow and thrive in 2022.

As your HR representatives navigate the “Year of the Employee,” they will be tasked with more responsibilities than ever before, including:

  • Updating workplace policies and procedures
  • Promoting an inspiring and supportive company culture
  • Monitoring your DEI program
  • Managing the transition to a hybrid work model
  • Modernizing training protocols
  • Rethinking recruiting efforts
  • Implementing health and wellness initiatives
  • Overseeing safety and compliance efforts
  • Executing daily tasks (payroll, reporting, scheduling, training, recruiting, benefits administration)
  • Establishing a robust employee communications program
  • Creating or updating your Business Continuity Plan (BCP)

How HR Can Help Companies Grow and Thrive in 2022

Here are best practices to help you map out the next steps for your organization in 2022:

  • Create or Revise Your Business Continuity Plan (BCP): A BCP is a detailed contingency plan to quickly recover the most vulnerable parts of a business after a disruption or emergency occurs—such as a pandemic. Companies with solid BCPs tend to recover more rapidly and effectively from natural disasters and other emergencies. Feedback from employees, clients, and stakeholders will provide you with the information you need to develop or refresh your plan.
  • Make Sure Your Company is Legally Compliant: Perform a self-audit (or work with a consultant) to make sure your company is compliant with all relevant federal, state, and local workplace requirements. Review relevant benefits laws that regulate plans, including medical, dental, visual, psychiatric, or long-term healthcare and pension plans and other retirement plans, and prepare annual notices that your company is required to distribute to employees.
  • Lean on Your HR Team to Help Guide Your Organization: Give your business room to grow by outsourcing tasks that could be taking away from your business development. Consider working with a professional employer organization (PEO) such as G&A Partners to manage some or all of your human resources tasks. Streamlining your HR processes helps you take care of your employees, increase efficiencies, connect with top-tier talent, stay on top of rules and regulations, and improve your bottom line.

How G&A Can Help

G&A Partners offers access to HR experts with years of experience helping businesses develop their employees, improve their workplace cultures, implement new HR processes and procedures, and more. Schedule a consultation with one of our trusted business advisors to learn more.