The Future of Workforce Management: 2021 Trends

The results are in! In our latest State of Workforce Management Survey, nearly 300 executives and leaders from the human services industry weighed in with their insight – and collectively, this gives us a clear picture of what’s to come for human services organizations in the new year. How does your organization compare with its workforce priorities? Our 2021 report will reveal new workforce management trends, challenges, and priorities when it comes out this January. Meanwhile, we’re providing you with a sneak peek into some of the key findings below.

Top Workforce Priorities for 2021 Revealed

As in past years, one of the most important questions from our survey asks respondents to identify their top three workforce management priorities for the coming year. For 2021, we identified eight core dimensions of workforce management to choose from:

  • Company Culture: Fostering a collaborative and diverse environment
  • Drive Towards Digital: Increasing operational efficiency & agility
  • Employee Engagement & Satisfaction: Improving the employee experience
  • Financial Sustainability: Resource planning, budgeting & visibility
  • Future of Work: Managing a mobile & dispersed workforce
  • Recruiting & Retention: Building a sustainable workforce
  • Talent Management: Measuring and improving individual performance
  • Workplace Wellbeing: Creating a safe and healthy environment

Historically, while the categories have shifted and evolved over the years, we’ve consistently seen improving recruiting and retention and increasing employee engagement top the charts as the highest priorities. At the start of 2020, we introduced financial sustainability as a category, which quickly took the #2 spot on the priority list. Now, as we look ahead to 2021, financial sustainability has only grown in importance, comfortably topping the charts as the #1 workforce management priority. Following financial sustainability, recruiting and retention showed up as the second highest priority, and company culture rounded out our third priority.

While these results don’t show a drastic change in priorities overall – striking a balance between big-picture items like keeping the organization running and important-detail items related to the individual employee experience – they do hint at a shift in mentality just over the past year. In previous years, there’s been a heavy emphasis on the employees, from finding and attracting the right individuals to keeping employees engaged at work to making efforts to retain top talent to help the organization thrive. We know that our employees are the most important part of the organization – they are the ones who get the job done, create and define your company culture, and set your organization apart from the crowd. Over the past decade or so, we’ve discussed this in terms of going from a customer-first mindset to an employee-first mindset.

However, as with many other aspects of business and personal life, the disruption of 2020 turned things on its head quite a bit. Regarding workforce management, this is reflected in a more top-down approach reflected in our most recent survey results. The employee-first mentality was more of a bottom-up approach to managing the business. Now, with financial sustainability greatly outweighing other priorities, we see a shift in focus to a top-down approach instead. Executives and leaders are getting back to the basics of looking at how efficiently they’re running and how financially sustainable their organization is to be better prepared for the uncertainties of the future.

This is not to say that recruiting and retention or company culture became less important. Instead, it indicates that organizations needed to reconsider their financials – a foundation upon which every other element of workforce management is built. Before COVID-19 shut down businesses, necessitated a shift to remote work, and upended the economy, organizations had no reason to think about changing their established routines. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, as the saying goes. But as the pandemic stretched out and economic uncertainty continued to rise, organizations realized that being able to adjust quickly to changes and face challenges with resilience were the keys to ongoing success. And that means taking a hard look at resource allocations, labor costs, and measuring outcomes.

With financial sustainability laying the groundwork for organizational success, human services leaders open up the opportunity once again to focus more on those ever-so-important people goals – including establishing and cultivating a collaborative and inclusive workplace culture that will engage employees, attract top talent, and help retain your workforce.

The workforce management priorities discussed here came from the most recent workforce management survey from DATIS. You can now check out the full results in the 2021 State of Workforce Management Report

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