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Employees Will Remember How Companies Handled 2020

It’s no secret that employees were watching closely as their employer responded to the COVID-19 pandemic and various social justice issues that occurred in 2020. The tumultuous year left an indelible impact on the workplace, changing how many employers operate and how employees view their organization.


In a survey by Alight, 60% of employees said taking a public stand on social and political issues is an opportunity for employers to separate themselves from the competition and 44% said they were proud of how their employer responded to the demonstrations of 2020. Additionally, 41% of respondents said they’re less likely to stay at their current company based on how that employer acted during the pandemic.

Given the economic instability that still exists throughout the job market, some of these employees might not be in an immediate position to act on those negative feelings. However, it would behoove employers to take inventory of where their own employee satisfaction lies and act quickly to retain those employees, said Laine Conway, vice president, total rewards at Alight Solutions.

“It’s also about how [you handled] the safety and policies around protecting your essential workers who didn’t have the same choices as those who work from home,” Conway said in addition to employers’ handling of COVID and social justice issues. “I think we’ll see that impact post-vaccine really start to play out and getting ahead of that wave is going to be critical, because I do expect some movement in that space.”

By in large, Alight’s data revealed that most employers responded well to COVID-19, as 70% of employees surveyed felt this way. Many employers excelled in increasing their transparency during the pandemic, as 54% of employees said they felt well informed on company matters related to the coronavirus and its impact on work and business.

Conway said there was an overall rise in employer communication from past years, which can be attributed to organizations responding diligently during the pandemic. In the same vein, however, employee well-being dipped in 2020.

“It’s important to look at how you can take those insights and use them to create your blueprint moving forward,” Conway said. “Any employer who is looking at it and saying, ‘when we go back to normal’ is really missing the message, which is how you can use these reactions and insights to build what you want your employee experience to be moving forward.”

Perhaps the biggest change to the working world in 2020 was the emergence of remote work out of necessity. Many organizations quickly pivoted to a teleworking model, assuming it would be temporary. However, as the pandemic persisted, remote work was prolonged and many organizations are extending it to this summer. As a result, many employees have grown fond of their new work setup, with 85% of employees indicating they’re at least moderately interested in staying remote. Most note that they’re more productive and don’t miss the daily commute.

“You can’t ignore that,” Conway said. “That impacts experience, your return-to-work plans, it impacts your office real estate plans and even your retention and attraction policies, because it means looking for more remote workers.”

Remote work factors into the overall rise of employees craving more flexibility, which extends into benefits and rewards. Some employers provided their employees with more caregiver support, paid sick days and mental health days to reset and fend off burnout. Conway said organizations will need to determine whether these should be permanent fixtures when assessing their employee value proposition.

“The ability to implement some of these nontraditional [things] was key. What will be incumbent upon rewards professionals is to determine if these are things they want to maintain and are they moving into that expectation category,” Conway said. “The bottom line is pay and benefits are what still motivate people and time off is No. 3 — that’s been a fairly steady state and that became even more important this year.”

About the Author

Brett Christie Bio Image

Brett Christie is the managing editor of Workspan Daily.

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