2021 work trends

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2021 Work Trends: Should We Continue to Be Surprised?

Over the last ten months, the entire workplace changed, as did the expectations of employees and contractors. But not everything that happened last year was a total shock — so why should we allow 2021 work trends to surprise us?

A little over a year ago, I wrote a post about the workplace trends we would most likely see in 2020. Of course, when that post went live no one could have predicted the impact a global pandemic would have on the future of work. Still, as you’ll see below, we shouldn’t have been too surprised by how much the workplace changed.

In fact, maybe we should be proud of our ability to anticipate, accept, and adapt…

The Death of the Office

Our 2020 Prediction:

“It’s official: the office is dead. The office your parents knew, that is.

2020 will build on a trend that’s been on the rise in 2018 and 2019. More employees rely on technology to do their jobs and keep up with their teams. This means that more employees know they can do their jobs from anywhere–and they’re not afraid to ask the boss for that benefit. According to the Society for Human Resources Management, 69% of organizations allow their employees to work from home at least some of the time, and 27% of organizations allowed full-time remote work arrangements.”

Our 2020 Reality:

In our “now normal,” far more than 69% of organizations allow their employees to work from home.

The real question is: How many of those companies — once we start to put the pandemic behind us — will let the majority of their employees continue to work from home? And how many will want business environments to revert to our “old normal”?

Our 2021 Work Trends Forecast:

As Mark S. Babbitt says, “‘We know we gave you all that freedom, but now we’re taking it back — said no good employer, ever.'” Companies that want to retain the best of their talent will work hard to co-create a “new normal” that keeps the good aspects of the pandemic workplace. That most certainly includes working from home.

The Rise of Employee Activism

Our 2020 Prediction:

“Nothing seems to be holding employees back from pursuing what matters to them, even if it means speaking up against their own employer.

Half of all millennial employees have spoken out about employer actions about a controversial societal issue. The same Bloomberg study found that younger employees are more likely to be activists, though millennials are the biggest activist generation. In 2019, we saw countless examples of employee activism instigated by a sensational (and divisive) political climate. For example, hundreds of Wayfair employees walked out after learning that the company sold furniture to a Texas detention center for migrant children.”

Our 2020 Reality:

Like the pandemic, no one could have predicted the intensity demonstrated during the Black Lives Matter protests and — on the far other ends of the spectrum — the MAGA rallies that took place in 2020 and early 2021. Along the way, Facebook, Google, Amazon, and many other companies faced employee walk-outs in 2021.

Our 2021 Work Trends Forecast:

One would like to think companies would go into 2021 with eyes (and minds) wide open. However, already this year, we’ve seen employees take a stand against the positions of their employers, including insisting that corporations suspend donations to certain politicians, political parties, and PACs.

A Workplace That Stands for Something

Our 2020 Prediction:

“Millennials need to work for a purpose, not just money or a career.

A CNBC survey found that 69% of employees want to work for a company with clearly-stated values, and 35% stated that the most critical factor in their workplace happiness was the feeling that their work is meaningful. And these days, employees are willing to trade money for a purpose, with 9 in 10 employees stating that they would take a pay cut if it meant they could do meaningful work. In fact, when employees were asked to rank what matters most to them in their work, money was a distant second to workplace purpose.”

Our 2020 Reality

The only aspect of this prediction that changed? We need to add Gen Z to the discussion. For younger generations in the workforce, the concept of trading work hours for dollars and going home feeling fulfilled is now completely outdated. And employers are best served by seeing the writing on the wall.

Our 2021 Work Trends Forecast:

Employers will have no choice in 2021: In large part, performance and profits will be determined by an employees’ alignment to the company’s purpose.

The Changing Definition of Benefits

Our 2020 Prediction:

“Employees (especially millennials) won’t turn their nose up at decent benefits.

Millennials are the job-hopping generation, with half of all millennials (compared to 60% of all non-millennials) stating that they plan to be working at a different company than their current one by next year. But for the few years you do have your employees, they want that time to be worth their while. Younger workers are pushing back against the idea of work as a constant obsession. More of them demand increasing flexibility and benefits that reflect it, such as more paid leave after having a baby, the ability to work remotely, or allowances for breaks during the day.”

Our 2020 Reality

Bingo! The pandemic forced employers to consider not-so-common benefits like in-home child care, elderly parent care, mental health and wellness, virtual therapy, and so much more. In addition, the “always-on” aspect of working from home made the setting of boundaries — and taking real breaks from work — a real issue for remote workers.

Our 2021 Work Trends Forecast:

As we said just a moment ago: “Companies… will work hard to co-create a ‘new normal’ that takes into consideration all the good aspects of the pandemic workplace.” Like our freedom, employers can’t give us something that makes our lives better and then take it back. Right?

What Surprises Will 2021 Bring?

Experts like to say the workplace trends of 2020 caught us by surprise. But did they? Did they really?

Keep a close eye on 2021 work trends and surprises. And see how many of them — just like the trends and “surprises” of 2020 did  — will make work, and our lives, better.