Top 24 Human Resources Initiatives for 2021

The new year has arrived and HR professionals are busy preparing their organizations and employees for an outstanding 2021. A few months ago, we sent a survey to the Trakstar user base and posed the question, “What is your top employee/HR initiative for 2021?”

The open-ended question generated a total of 359 responses. Survey participants were mostly from organizations with 1-300 employees and primarily represented the following industries:

  • Nonprofit (14%)
  • Software/IT (13%)
  • Professional services (10%)
  • Financial services (9%)
  • Healthcare (9%)

We compiled the results and identified 302 responses that demonstrate trends within the HR profession. Based on our survey results, here are the top 24 HR initiatives for 2021. 

1. Employee engagement (43 responses)

Increasing employee engagement is overwhelmingly the top priority for HR professionals going into 2021. While many people have their own definition of engagement, we here at Trakstar believe it’s the combination of employee happiness and productivity, driven by intrinsic motivation.

We should note that multiple respondents specifically mentioned measuring engagement with employee surveys as their top initiative. Gauging the intrinsic motivation of the entire workforce is challenging but can be accomplished by sending surveys containing the right questions. 

Additional employee engagement resources:

2. Performance reviews & performance management (35 responses)

A large number of survey participants expressed a desire to improve employee performance reviews and their day-to-day performance management practices. This is an unsurprising trend given that accurately completing employee evaluations is an on-going struggle for many organizations. 

There were several specific responses related to employee performance reviews, including:

  • Finish performance reviews on deadline (9 responses)
  • Improve the performance review process (5 responses)
  • Start a performance review process (2 responses)
  • Automate performance reviews (2 responses)
  • Develop competencies for performance reviews (2 responses)
  • Improve overall employee performance (1 response)
  • Organize performance reviews by department (1 response)
  • Complete all performance reviews (1 response)
  • Integrate core values into performance reviews (1 response)
  • Simplify performance reviews (1 response)
  • Track high performers and under performers (1 response)

The main takeaway from the points above is efficiently and effectively completing performance reviews is a key objective for 2021. 

Additional employee reviews and performance management resources:

3. Employee training & development (30 responses)

Many HR professionals hope to improve their organization’s employee training and professional development efforts in the coming year. Successful training programs improve performance while also boosting employee engagement. Employees get better at their jobs and appreciate having access to free skill-development coursework that will lead to new career opportunities. 

More specifically, five participants mentioned creating clear career development paths for employees and two said they hope to train and promote new managers from within.

Additional employee training and development resources:

4. Employee goals & objectives (21 responses)

Setting employee goals and objectives is another major priority for HR professionals going into 2021. Three respondents clarified they hope to align company and employee goals to ensure every team member positively contributes to the organization’s bottom line.

Goals are the foundation of a successful performance management process. Employees are productive when they know what tasks and projects will help their team succeed. And performance reviews are accurate when raters evaluate employees on clear and quantifiable objectives rather than on generic competencies unrelated to the role.

Additional employee goals and objectives resources 

5. Employee retention & turnover (21 responses)

Many survey respondents said retaining employees and decreasing turnover is their main initiative going forward. Even though the job market currently favors hiring companies, recruiting and training new employees is a costly and time-consuming undertaking.

Employee retention ensures day-to-day operational efficiency. According to SHRM, the average time-to-hire is 42 days, which means progress is impeded for nearly a month and a half while key positions remain vacant. Problems can be avoided and progress will continue simply by retaining talented and knowledgeable team members. 

Additional employee retention & turnover resources 

6. COVID-19 (19 responses)

The pandemic is on everyone’s mind going into the new year, including the HR professionals responsible for the health and safety of their employees. It was certainly the most prevalent workforce trend of 2020 and employers will continue to deal with the new reality going forward.  

Of the 19 respondents who said COVID-19 is their top 2021 initiative, 12 provided the following context:

  • Returning to the workplace (5 responses)
  • Maintaining productivity during COVID-19 (4 responses)
  • Ensuring employee mental health during COVID-19 (2 responses)
  • Avoiding layoffs during COVID-19 (1 response)

Additionally, 11 survey participants said transitioning to a remote organization is their main priority. We’ll cover that topic more in a later section. 

7. Diversity & inclusion (19 responses)

Building a diverse and inclusive workforce is another major HR focus for 2021. Not long ago, the makeup of the staff was hardly a concern for most organizations but it’s now a top priority across the HR profession. 

Numerous organizations attribute their success to the diversity of the people they employ. An inclusive culture improves employee performance, engagement, and retention. And great ideas come from a collaborative work environment consisting of people who have different life experiences and perspectives. 

Additional diversity and inclusion resources:

8. HR software (17 responses)

As technology continues to advance, many HR professionals want to take better advantage of their employee management systems. Some respondents hope to increase both manager and employee participation in their Trakstar performance management solution. Others expressed a desire to integrate their different software or implement a Human Resource Information System (HRIS).

Once the right HR technology is in place, many of the other 2021 initiatives are easy to accomplish. Employee engagement, goals, and performance are measurable with a solution like Trakstar. Employee training programs are seamlessly created using a Learning Management System (LMS). And the hiring process for multiple positions is efficiently managed with an Applicant Tracking System (ATS). 

Additional HR software resources:

9. Growth & hiring (12 responses)

Many survey respondents are focused on growing their organizations and expanding their staff in 2021. Organizational growth may be the most challenging initiative on this list, depending on how ambitious the targets are. 

Hiring for multiple positions requires a smart approach. The organization must prioritize the important positions it needs to fill, source a pool of qualified professionals, and effectively evaluate the top candidates. The right hiring decisions must be made for each position so the organization gets the best people in place to achieve its goals. 

Additional growth and hiring resources:

10. Remote work (11 responses)

Due to COVID-19, remote work suddenly became one of the biggest workforce trends of 2020. It will not only continue for the foreseeable future but many organizations have already decided to allow their employees to work from home indefinitely. 

Multiple survey participants specified that they’ll need to develop remote work guidelines and implement new software that will allow for virtual collaboration. Others mentioned they plan to support the mental health of their employees working from home and put measures in place to help them be productive. 

Other 2021 HR Initiatives 

That concludes the top 10 HR initiatives for 2021. Here are other common trends based on our survey results. 

11. Compensation planning (11 responses)

  • A handful of HR professionals plan to ensure fair and equitable pay for their employees. 

12. Employee policies (10 responses)

  • Ten survey respondents need to develop specific policies for their workforce in 2021.

13. Succession planning (8 responses)

  • Some HR leaders plan on identifying employees who will eventually step into leadership roles.

14. Employee health & wellness (7 responses)

  • A few survey respondents aspire to promote health and mental wellbeing in their organizations. 

15. Document employee performance (6 responses)

  • An extension of performance reviews and management, six respondents hope to continuously document employee performance. 

16. New hire onboarding (6 responses)

  • Some survey participants need to improve how they welcome and train new additions to the team. 

17. Employee feedback (6 responses)

  • A group of HR professionals hope to provide better feedback to employees. 

18. 360-degree reviews (5 responses)

  • Five participants plan to incorporate multi-rater feedback into performance reviews. 

19. Organizational structure (3 responses)

  • A set of HR professionals need to reorganize or define the structure of the workforce. 

20. Improve communication (3 responses)

  • A few respondents stated that communication needs to improve among employees. 

21. Define job descriptions (3 responses)

  • Three HR leaders shared that they plan to specify the tasks and responsibilities of every team member. 

22. Lower organizational costs (2 responses)

  • A couple of participants plan to decrease spending in their organization.

23. Develop company culture (2 responses)

  • Two HR professionals will establish a healthy company culture.

24. 90-Day performance reviews (2 responses)

  • Lastly, a couple of respondents will implement performance reviews after new hires have been on the job for three months.

Human resources trends in 2021

There are a wide variety of initiatives HR professionals will focus on in 2021. The overall trend seems to be that organizations will strive to improve the employee experience and ensure productivity after what was a trying 2020. 

From all of us here at Trakstar, we wish you a Happy New Year and the best of luck with your 2021 goals, both personally and professionally. 

Additional resources: