Following a year of unforeseen and unparalleled change in the world of work, Consulting Partner Donal Laverty examines the key areas businesses should be focusing on in 2021 when it comes to their employees.

Diversity and Inclusion

Diversity makes good business sense, and the benefits are well evidenced. Whilst Covid-19 continues to occupy the government’s short-term focus, we believe that racial diversity is on this government’s agenda in 2021 and therefore businesses may soon be required to report ethnicity data.

Organisations should also ensure that their policies and procedures are updated to reflect the future of working as we predict a backlash in 2021 against working from home on a permanent basis as a hybrid model of home and the office is emerging as the preferred choice for many.

In addition, Brexit may change the dynamic of Northern Ireland’s diverse workforce in 2021. Employers who wish to wish to recruit skills from abroad will need to become sponsors and so should spend time exploring these changes in preparation for their needs.

Workforce wellbeing

Covid-19 has been both physically and psychologically damaging and these effects will continue to be realised in 2021. Employers have legal duties in relation to the health and safety of their workforce, which includes their mental health and wellbeing, and to assess the risks posed in the workplace, now including the employee’s home. HR departments should be, if they are not already, undergoing an overhaul of support programmes as soon as possible to ensure they are playing their support role to full capacity.

Ethical business

Customers and employees will remain increasingly focused on business practices of those they engage with or are employed by – and this will drive and elevate ethical business into 2021. Businesses cannot hide under the upheaval Covid-19 has brought – ethical business remains on the national government’s agenda, particularly in the areas of Modern Slavery Act 2015 and the Environment Bill so we will start to see positive change here.

‘Speak Up, Listen Up’ culture

Throughout 2021, we will see an increase in employees calling out their employers, not only in relation to usual business practices, but also alleged misuse of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme or complaints surrounding the health and safety measures.

From both a legal and risk management perspective, and to responsibly promote a ‘speak up, listen up’ culture, now is the time to review policies and procedures to ensure complaints are welcomed and well-managed.

Remuneration in a new world

One challenge which organisations will grapple with in 2021 is remuneration. Employers cannot arbitrarily decide to cut wages without consultation and employers need to be mindful of equal pay across similar positions. Ultimately, as businesses react to our new world, 2021 will bring about increased negotiations as material changes to the substance of roles are made.

Business re-organisations and restructures

2021 will continue to present organisational reviews and adjustments and so the need for remote consultation about changes to terms and conditions and redundancies will rise presenting communications challenges for employers. Complaints and grievances from unhappy employees may rise and could result in legal claims so it is crucial that businesses are fully prepared to carry out programmes in a meticulous manner.

To get in touch with Donal email or Tel: 028 9032 3466