2020 was a tumultuous year for employers as COVID-19 impacted companies, big and small, globally. The hit to the economy and changes to the way businesses operate led a high percentage of businesses to close, others to layoff or furlough employees, and the rest to rethink operations to keep their companies moving forward.As we move into 2021, the changes to the way we work require more permanent solutions. However, many employers have taken this opportunity to reevaluate benefits and working arrangements to accommodate employees’ changing needs and to reduce employee burnout.
What happened in 2020?
In 2020, companies endured challenging circumstances that changed almost daily due to the pandemic. Employers had to act fast to implement company-wide changes to their policies and operations to keep their teams safe and functioning.
Here are a few changes to the workplace that occurred in 2020:
Working from Home Indefinitely
Many employers in the U.S. have implemented an indefinite work-from-home policy to reduce employees’ exposure to COVID-19. Of those who can’t operate fully remote, most have adopted a floating work schedule whereby teams take turns coming into the office while still following CDC guidelines. These adjustments have proven to be beneficial and have helped to protect employees from contracting the virus.
Challenges Organizing PTO
In the U.S., employers give full-time employees an average of 10 days of paid time off per year. However, workers have been delaying or canceling their scheduled PTO, hoping to reschedule it for a time when businesses have reopened and it becomes safe for group events. This posed scheduling challenges for employers who saw many employees trying to use all their remaining vacation days at the end of the calendar year before they expired. On the other hand, those who have less than the average amount of PTO, or inadequate sick or parental leave, avoided using their time off in case they needed it for an emergency. Both situations can cause stress for teams and may eventually result in employees experiencing burnout, especially during difficult times.
Reduced Salaries and a Growing Pay Gap
According to a survey by MagnifyMoney, “roughly 1 in 3 full-time workers have experienced a pay cut due to the coronavirus pandemic [in 2020].”
While some companies have had to close their businesses, others with tightened budgets have had to reduce employee pay to keep their businesses operational. For example, Buzzfeed implemented a graduated salary reduction in early 2020 based on employees’ pay range: those making $65,000 or less faced a 5% cut; employees making over $125,000 faced a roughly 10% cut; executive salaries were cut by 14%-25%. While some companies, like Buzzfeed, were able to make significant financial adjustments and continue operating throughout the pandemic, others had to furlough or lay off employees. General Motors (GM), for instance, furloughed a total of 6,500 employees within the year.
In the U.S., more women than men have faced pay reductions due to the pandemic. According to the MagnifyMoney survey, 52% of men and only 44% of women who experienced pay cuts eventually had their pay restored. The pandemic has highlighted that women continue to be more affected by shutdowns and the unequal distribution of pay, especially during a recession.
Key Trends to Expect in 2021
The reality is that the pandemic and its fallout will not be going away any time soon – it will take months or even years to stabilize and rebuild the workforce. Knowing this, employers need to follow the new workplace trends that keep their employees safe and protected from exposure to the virus.
Here are a few changes employers can expect in the new year:
More Remote Jobs
In 2020, workplaces began transitioning to accommodate remote work. To maximize proficiency, many employers supplied or reimbursed office supplies for employees’ home offices to ensure they had the right equipment and technology to continue working as if they were in the office.
Because the day employees can safely return to the office is still uncertain, you can expect to begin hiring for remote roles as a part of your recruitment strategy. In previous years, most recruitment managers preferred to avoid recruiting for remote positions as they thought it would be difficult to manage teams outside of the office. However, 2020’s remote workforce can be looked at as a test for employers to see if going fully remote is a viable method in the long-term, even after the pandemic has ended.
Flexible Working Arrangements
With the virus continuing to spread, the health of your employees and their loved ones is a priority. According to Indranil Roy, “more than half of the global workforce is working remotely, and as the pandemic continues to threaten health, we are looking at a prolonged period of hybrid working – from home and office in different proportions.”
As we approach the 1-year mark from when COVID-19 became a global crisis, hopes of going back into the office anytime soon stay slim. As the health and safety of employees take precedent, employers should expect to offer more flexibility in work arrangements. For example, options to permanently work from home, shortened workdays, or changes to in-office attendance (e.g., 3-2-2), should all be considered, where possible. These flexible work arrangements can help reduce burnout and show consideration for employees’ mental health and safety.
With all the policy changes occurring in the workplace, it may make sense to renegotiate employees’ benefits packages to support their needs during these times of uncertainty.
The baseline of employee benefits for full-time workers in the U.S. is generally 10-days PTO and an average of 12 weeks unpaid maternity and paternity leave. With employees working longer hours from home, employers should consider offering more PTO to support employees’ mental health. Further, with school closures, the burden of childcare has increased for working parents. Consider offering paid parental leave packages or childcare benefits for employees during the pandemic and beyond.
With employees remaining largely “effective and productive” throughout these difficult times, employers should be open to changing policies and benefits to ensure a better work-life balance for their team members.
New Year, New Policies
While there remain many unknowns going into 2021, one thing is for sure: the pandemic will not be going away any time soon. Although we have a year’s worth of science and research to determine how long the virus will last, the workforce continues to be in a state of uncertainty. As we work towards company goals and onboarding new clients and employees, employers need to be more mindful of the circumstances their staff face due to COVID-19. Accommodation, fair compensation, and mindfulness are all keys to becoming a great place to work throughout the pandemic.