How tech can help HR, employees recover in 2021

This month, HRE is helping HR leaders prepare for the year ahead with a series featuring insights from industry experts, thought leaders and others about what we can learn from 2020 and the challenges coming in 2021. Read the series here.

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Dan Sines, CEO and founder of Traitify, a talent attraction and engagement platform, says employee engagement will be a primary focus next year, as employers pivot to recovery mode and seek to retain their top talent. With that in mind, technology will play an even more pivotal role in the HR industry in 2021, he says. Sines recently shared other outlooks for next year with HRE:

HRE: What were some of the mistakes HR made this year navigating the challenges of the pandemic? What did they get right?

Dan Sines, CEO and founder of Traitify

Sines: I think the first thing we need to recognize is that what happened this year is unprecedented. There isn’t a rulebook for this. So, no matter what industry you’re in, everyone is trying to make the smartest choices and adapt as new information becomes available. For high-volume retail employers, one of the most critical things you can do right now is focus on the safety of your employees. Companies that put a premium on ensuring employee safety by limiting the number of customers inside the store and giving extra time off to high-risk employees have seen a positive response from both employees and customers. Additionally, restaurants and event venues that have shown flexibility to employees as well as established employee support funds have also bought themselves goodwill with employees and customers. In these industries, your employees are also usually customers, so centering their needs ensures not only their peace of mind but also your customer’s experience.

The biggest mistakes were predictable: scrambling to set up telecommuting protocols where there weren’t any before, handicapping some business operations by furloughing too many or too few employees in the spring and summer. Not communicating effectively with employees, leaving them on edge about what was happening next with the business. I think HR leaders and executive leadership across many industries erred too much on the side of caution, rather than communicating clearly and looking at the pandemic as a time to invest in people.

For instance, before the pandemic, the labor market was quite shallow, forcing many businesses to hire candidates who may not have been the perfect fit for their open positions. The economic collapse during the spring hit a reset button, and companies will either have a more competitive set of candidates to choose from or need to find the right-fit candidate to retain employees through recovery. This year has been terrible for so many people and so many companies, but there are success stories as well.

HRE: What types of HR technologies related to engagement can we expect to emerge in 2021?

Sines: COVID-19 highlighted the critical importance of the high-volume, hourly workforce. In many ways, “the essential worker” is the story of 2020. Engagement technology that directs HR teams to invest time and resources in the development of these workers will be key in 2021.

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HR technology has been quickly adopted to assist with the talent acquisition duties of HR rather than employee engagement, but engagement and development are just as important for the long-term success of a business. By taking the time to invest in these high-volume workers, companies can avoid costly turnover, alleviate the stress on hiring teams and start to bring back happiness to the workplace.

Platforms that deliver professional development content and provide clear channels of communication between high-volume workforces and management will be a clear focus over the next year or two.

HRE: What should be HR leaders’ first priority for 2021?

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See also: Technology and the modern workforce-Cultivating D&I

While we may not overcome a lack of diversity, equity and inclusion in one year, I think the next several months will be key in companies identifying the places where bias seeps into their talent attraction and employee engagement processes. Certain assessment formats, interview questions and even managing styles have been tailored to the preferences of the default majority. This year, companies with bold leadership will finally start to dismantle some of that bias and pave the way for greater diversity, equity and, most importantly, inclusion in 2021 and beyond.

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Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at [email protected].