2021 Employer Brand Predictions and Trends

It’s safe to say that this year did not go as planned. Many plans were put on hold or canceled and so many of us had to adjust and adapt to the constantly changing environment of 2020. But we made it—we’re almost to the end of this year and the start of a new one! 

When looking back at our employer brand predictions and trends for 2020, it seems like a lot of our predictions came true despite the massive disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our team of experienced strategists predicted candidates and employees would be the focus, and the COVID-19 pandemic placed a giant spotlight on how employers treated their candidates and employees. Remote work became the ‘new normal’ for many organizations to conduct business. Many organizations placed greater emphasis on mental health, work-life balance, and social justice issues. The people serving behind a counter became just as, if not more, essential as the people shopping and purchasing goods. In other words, 2020 really demonstrated how impactful an organization’s employer brand is to its consumer brand.  

So what will 2021 bring? 

While we don’t have a crystal ball and 2020 taught us that some things we will never see coming, I’ve tapped into team exaqueo’s more than 150 years of combined HR, marketing, and employer brand experience to compile our best employer brand predictions for the New Year.

The relationship between employee and employer will take center stage 

The global pandemic forced many people to reevaluate their priorities at work. Rather than evaluating an employer’s office space for cool gadgets and unique perks, candidates and employees became focused on personal safety, stability, and job security. The decision to take, stay, or leave a job became less about the transaction—the offer of compensation and benefits—and more about the experience—the emotion behind the employment relationship. In 2021, we will see increased emphasis and insight on how employment is a relationship, and how we feel about our employers isn’t based on just what we get from them, but on our relationship over time. 

Instead of focusing just on the things that make employment attractive to job seekers, organizations need to focus on the authentic employment experience. Employment isn’t a transaction, it’s an interaction—a relationship built from the shared experience of navigating conflict, going through change, and building trust. 

The return to a people-centric, flexible office environment 

2020 was the year of working from home for many. Many organizations proposed tentative timelines to return employees to the office and others, like Twitter, declared staff could continue working from home permanently. The distributed work trend will continue into the New Year, but with the COVID-19 vaccine starting to be distributed, we are predicting there will be a return to the office. However, that office environment will not be the one of years past. 

During this time of social distancing and quarantine, many people are craving human interaction and are ready to return to offices. The fact is that not everyone wants to work from home. And yet, even when it’s safe to return, there will be some people who will only want to go into the office when it’s necessary. Forward-thinking employers will consider a 3-2-2 workweek or unlimited PTO. Companies that offer employees the flexibility to choose what works best for them will stand ahead in the 2021 talent marketplace. 

For those workers who can’t work from home? They’ll still demand flexibility, whether in scheduling or benefits or workload. Even those jobs we said could never be done from home (like news anchors for example) found a way to get creative. In 2021, we expect more flexibility where there used to be none too.

Organizations will be held accountable for the promises they’ve made on social issues

This year companies spoke up and made public commitments to end systemic racism in their organizations. They promised racial equity and increased diversity in leadership. Next year, they will be held accountable to show the results of their promised actions. Candidates will ask about it in interviews and seek out the truth from current employees. They’ll look for data points and specific examples of performance—not just promises.

We’ve already seen many of our clients put forth a concerted effort towards diversity, inclusion, and equity efforts this year. In 2021, we predict even more organizations will follow suit. Candidates and employees will also continue to put pressure on employers to make the workplace more diverse and inclusive. 

HR technology will focus on better serving candidates rather than HR professionals

The candidate experience has been slowly improving for the past few years, but it’s still one of the biggest frustrations we identify in our candidate journey research. The challenges of 2020 only amplified the difficulties in the candidate experience as employers had to work to facilitate virtual interviews, remote onboarding, and other social distancing hiring measures. 

In 2021, the demand for improved HR technologies will not only grow, it will shift focus toward serving candidates over the HR professional. HR tech, like the HR processes, have always served the function and never the candidate. Today’s candidates expect to be treated like customers. Prioritizing the candidate experience will be a true differentiator for employers. Ensuring that even the least engaged candidates don't feel disconnected in the hiring process will separate top employers from other organizations competing for the same talent. 

What do you think 2021 will bring? These predictions are based on the expertise, experience, and best guesses I’ve gathered from team exaqueo. We’d love to hear from you, too. Tweet us @exaqueo to share where you think the employer brand industry is heading in the future. 

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