HR Trends That Dominated the World of HR in 2021

HR Trends That Dominated the World of HR in 2021

It’s said that challenging times bring immense opportunities. And if we take a look at the way companies work, the adage certainly holds true. Businesses have been buffeted by the winds of change, and the one department that had to step up and muscle through the dramatic change was Human Resources. For them, 2020 and 2021 were incredible learning curves.

From the first shift to completely remote working to the subsequent hybrid work environment. From mental health concerns to the talent shortage due to the Great Resignation. There have been continuous episodes of disruption, and it’s the People’s department that has had to face the pressure.

A Look Back At The 2021 Trends For HR Leaders

This fast pace of change is going to continue, making it crucial to be aware of the HR trends that held sway in 2021 and will become more prevalent in the coming new year. With that as a backdrop, let’s delve into this year’s themes of change that dominated each quarter.

Quarter 1 Trends

Hybrid Working + Ethical Leadership

Two years ago, most organisations considered offices imperative to running a business. They expected employees to be chained to their desks. Then struck COVID-19, making work from home essential.

Initially, most Indian companies were sceptical about it. However, 2020 proved that remote working is often more productive as absenteeism drops and employee turnover is 50% less. As the year turned to 2021, the style of work changed to a hybrid, due to the ebb and flow of the pandemic waves. Companies offered employees the flexibility to work from the office or home. For the HR leaders, it meant diving into ways to keep remote and scattered teams engaged and efficient.

With employees working from all over the country and interacting through the screen, another trend arose: ethical leadership. It became crucial to building a culture of accountability, responsibility, and trust within an organisation’s processes, systems, and people. And leaders had to pick up the baton.

They had to demonstrate the right conduct through actions because it influenced the actions of others. The tenets that guided the start of the year for top management were harnessing meaningful relationships through better communication, fair behaviour, and prioritising process over result.

Read the magazine edition on hybrid working. 

Quarter 2 Trends

Employee Burnout + Engagement


A trend that emerged during the second quarter of 2021 was employee burnout and it happened for a couple of reasons. One, as much as remote or hybrid working did improve productivity, it was an uphill task to reach a stage where teams can coordinate and communicate smoothly. The journey to it was not easy, with employees struggling with virtual meetings and accomplishing tasks over calls and emails.

Switching to this online world brought about Zoom fatigue and the beginning of burnout. Two, house chores, personal burdens, and the anxiety of living through a pandemic became the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Closely linked to burnout was disintegrating employee engagement, a trend common to both 2020, 2021, and most likely 2022 also. With water cooler conversations coming to a standstill due to remote working, building rapport between employees became a chore.

So, the HR world had to find new ways to promote impromptu conversations between employees. From online clubs to team chats, virtual water cooler chats turned into a necessity to foster spontaneous connections and, thus, employee engagement.

Read the magazine edition on employee burnout.

Quarter 3 Trends

Empathetic Leadership + Employee Retention 

When India battled the worst COVID-19 wave as of yet, employee burnouts surged. The second wave bought a sea of change in organisations, along with a host of problems. These issues of employees feeling disconnected, demotivated and or simply low morale existed before the pandemic, too. Remote working merely amplified them and brought them to the forefront, giving top management the impetus to adjust to them.

They learnt that empathy was the magic spell and the key to the way forward for every modern workplace. So, during July, August, and September, empathetic leadership was the prevailing HR trend. Leaders who practised emotional intelligence made the effort to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and then walk in them to prevent burnout.

A natural consequence of both burnout and COVID-19 was employee turnover. Employees resigned or quit for all sorts of reasons, but it was the cost of replacing one, which can be 1.5 to 2x of the person’s annual salary, that became a core concern.

To mitigate the prohibitively expensive turnover, organisations began practising retention strategies that focused on engagement and job satisfaction. That’s why an HR trend that surfaced was boosting creativity in employees, maintaining work-life balance,S or even helping upskill employees.

Read the magazine edition on empathetic leadership.

Quarter 4 Trends

Startup Hiring + Tech Hiring

Even as the virus, the unseen advisory, pushed economies into a recession, the tech world thrived. Tech hiring in India rapidly increased this year, more so than in even the pre-pandemic era.

The demand for tech talent is not limited to IT giants. Most companies are looking to fill tech roles. In 2021 alone, the largest IT companies needed over 1.1 lakh fresh tech talents. A 30% increase in out-of-college hirings in FY22.

The hiring spree finally touched its zenith in this quarter, reaching 41%; a 3% gain over the last quarter. Tech startups and eCommerce sectors led the way with 57% of hiring intent. FMCG, retail, and logistics sectors followed at 59%, 51%, and 47%, respectively.

A final trend that dominated the world of HR in 2021 was hiring for early-stage startups. The task, which can be slightly troublesome, needs to be carefully considered because attracting the right talent and retaining them is pivotal for a startup.

While experience is important, it was functional expertise and potential that mattered more. The mindset has to be entrepreneurial, risk-taking, and about team wins instead of individual ones. The focus is on creating a culture of ownership, customer centricity, and working together towards one common goal.

It’s been refreshing to see the job market finally picking up after a tepid last year. Yes, it is largely led by tech talent demand, with an 85% yearly growth in hiring, but the outlook for other sectors is promising.

Read the magazine edition on tech hiring.

HR leaders have a front-row seat to one of the most incredible revolutions in organisations and businesses. With human resource management transforming at lightning speed, this is an exciting and equally challenging time to be part of the HR function. The People’s Department has become a critical spoke that keeps an organisation running.

Whether it is to ease talent shortages or to create engaging employee experiences, whether it is to stave off employee burnout or to promote more ethical leadership, HRs have become the solution to most of the concerns businesses have faced in the past two years. And they will remain so in the next year.

For HR professionals, it means being aware of trends that pushed the boundaries in 2021 and will do so again in 2022. And lastly, proactively work on them to add value and future-proof their organisation.


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