HR Trends 2021: The Number One Workplace Competencies To Survive The Pandemic

Companies have a tremendous opportunity to change and it begins with HR leaders themselves. Laurie Ruettimann, author, entrepreneur, and host of the Punk Rock HR podcast, predicted the Number One competency for 2021 will be self-leadership, meaning individual accountability.

“I don’t think we’re surviving a global pandemic to do things in the same way,” said Ruettimann. “Before, we liked people to come into a room and collaboratively hash out ideas. Now working remotely…we want people to solve a problem, to reach out…as needed…but to use their critical thinking skills and best judgment to do their jobs. Performance management plans will have to reflect that in order to be productive…we’ll have to rely on individual accountability to get things done.”

Ruettimann’s comments were part of the recent virtual broadcast of SuccessConnect. The session, which focused on future of work 2021 trends, was moderated by Kerry Brown, vice president of workforce adoption at SAP, and also featured Terry Brown, CHRO at L.A. Care.

Connecting employees for resilience

Diversity, equity, and inclusion topped the list of 2021 workforce trends for Terry Brown, whose health plan organization served 2.2 million people in vulnerable and low-income communities across Los Angeles County. Already a diverse organization, Terry Brown envisioned L.A. Care evolving in the wake of the pandemic over the next five years, doubling down on equity and inclusion while navigating a fundamentally changed workspace.

“We are a mission-driven organization, a health plan operating exclusively in Los Angeles county that provides health coverage for underserved and underrepresented [people]. That’s one in five Angelenos,” said Terry Brown. “We want to make sure we maintain that culture. In a remote [working] environment, we’re having to be very creative in how we do that.”

Interestingly, employee attendance at L.A. Care town halls rose after the organization began holding them remotely. The experience may be different, but the results have amplified the value of employee conversations.

“More people are attending our virtual town halls than ever attended the in-person town halls we held at the office, and we’re getting more challenging questions,” said Terry Brown. “Those questions help us, letting us know what messaging is resonating or being missed by employees, and what areas we need to focus on that we didn’t even think of.”

When L.A. Care employees at a recent town hall shared their challenges associated with remote schooling, leaders invited recommendations. This not only sparked more flexible scheduling arrangements for parents and others with childcare responsibilities, but also regular managerial check-ins with employees who lived alone. Terry Brown said that these actions reinforced the organization’s overall mission and culture, treating employees the same way they treated healthcare plan members.

Memo to HR: don’t be a hero

Although workforce issues are taking center stage during the pandemic, dialogues tend to focus on traditional full-time employees, leaving behind the swelling members of the gig economy.

“People are participating in more ways that aren’t captured in [standard] HR reports. I’m a little worried that when we talk about great initiatives, programs about diversity and inclusion and well-being, we’re only talking about such a small segment of workers,” said Ruettimann.

The second thing keeping Ruettimann up at night was how HR leaders can forget they are employees too. Stressed and overburdened, they’ve become experts in everything from logistics to public health, often burning the candle at both ends.

“If HR is having that kind of an experience, imagine what the rest of the workforce is feeling,” she said. “I tell people who I coach, if you really want to improve the employee experience, start with yourself…because you fix work by fixing yourself first. Hero behavior leads to burnout.”

Opportunity for change

The pressure on working women has become particularly intense said Ruettimann, evident in the record number of females opting out of the workforce. In her mind, talent wars will become more complicated unless we address societal issues like childcare and share of household work.

“If you’re a working woman with a family, whether you’re in a traditional or non-traditional relationship… you’re probably thinking of ways to scale back on work to shore up your home,” she said. “This could be a privileged problem, but it’s a problem that many parts of our economy have felt for years. Now that the pressure is being felt at the top of the economy, maybe we’ll find some solutions that will benefit everybody throughout the enterprise.”

On an optimistic note, Ruettimann saw opportunities in the gig economy for people to “do their own thing,” as well as established companies to shift gears.

“Organizations have a real opportunity to stop the hemorrhaging by looking differently at compensation and performance management, and communicating differently to their people who are so stressed,” she said. “I believe in the unending potential of human beings, and if they want it, there is the opportunity to be the change they want in their lives.”

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This article first appeared on SAP Brandvoice, Forbes.