Significant shifts to the workplace in 2020 are making way for a newly transformed world of work in 2021. The changing landscape this year has employers and workers looking to digital solutions to help them push through the challenges presented by a global pandemic, economic recession and social injustice. As businesses navigate forward, ADP identifies the key trends reshaping the 2021 workforce.

"As we move into a new year, it is clear businesses are having to accelerate their transformation to adapt to new realities," said Don Weinstein, corporate vice president of global product and technology at ADP. "Not only do we see an increased need for rapid, real-time data to reveal gaps and empower nimble and impactful decision-making; we're also seeing a resounding call for employers to focus on the well-being of their workers and create a workplace where everyone can work confidently and thrive. These trends will shape a new, stronger foundation for how work gets done in the future."

Trends Shaping the 2021 Workforce:

  1. Focus on Resilience and Safety

Employers will prioritise the needs of their workers and take steps to ensure a safe return to the workplace by putting protocols in place to limit potential exposure. In tandem, employees will be looking for support to help them adapt and grow amid changing working conditions. ADP surveyed employers with 1,000+ employees at the onset of the pandemic and found 39% of employers reported that employees' health fear was a top concern. As employers prioritise the health and safety of their workers, the nature of the workplace itself will evolve.

The ADP Research Institute surveyed over 26,000 employees across the globe from 25 countries to understand Engagement, Workplace Resilience and the impact of COVID-19 on the workplace in the "Global Workplace Study, 2020". A large part of those studied, 37.3%, continued to work as normal during the pandemic and 26% had already returned to work after the global shutdown. Top of mind for the workers studied was safety. Some had returned to work; others anticipated their return in a couple of weeks and others said it might be months to feel safe again.

  1. Drive for Diversity

Employees will increasingly demand greater action from employers in advancing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) within the workforce and continue to pay close attention to culture and social responsibility. In response, businesses will turn to their HCM partners to help them identify opportunities and establish a plan for progress and ongoing transparency.

Employers increasingly sought data insights on the racial and cultural demographics of their workforce accounting for a 74% increase in searches. Employers increased searches for gender-based demographics by 42%. With greater data transparency comes accountability there has been a noted increase in requests for DEI consulting, content support and training support.

  1. Fuel for Flexibility

A drastic and rapid move to formalise remote work suggests potential permanence as the modern workforce navigates forward and increasingly looks for dynamic solutions to support the new way work gets done. A recent ADP Research Institute study found that 44% of employers now have official flexible working policies in place, up from 24% pre-COVID-19. In fact, the study revealed most workers (65%) are upbeat about the flexibility of opportunities they will have in the future.

  1. Spotlight on Compliance

As the regulatory environment becomes more complex and new legislative changes are introduced, businesses will look for ways to streamline compliance-related tasks to alleviate the burden on HR and payroll departments while leveraging aid.

In the initial months of the pandemic, ADP analysed more than 2,000 legislative updates associated with COVID-19 across the globe in order to provide businesses with the guidance they needed to navigate compliance and seek essential relief. When surveying employers with 1,000+ employees, ADP found that 68% said they needed guidance on government relief programs including direct monetary assistance, low interest business loans, enhanced unemployment assistance and tax relief and deferral.

  1. Agility in Action

Many businesses are changing their models to adapt as they operate amid a fluctuating economic environment and a business landscape still punctuated by the uncertainty of the pandemic. To drive true transformation, businesses will focus in on their people and access to technology. In surveying of both small and medium-sized businesses (SMB) and enterprise organisations, ADP found that half of small businesses and 84 percent of larger businesses are making adjustments to their business model.

Despite these challenges, the ADP Research Institute study found confidence has declined less than one might expect, with 84% of workers today still feeling optimistic about the next five years in the workplace (down from 86% pre-pandemic), and 75% who feel buoyant about the year ahead.

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