What do Employees Want in 2021?

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Permanent remote work? Enhanced employee experience initiatives? Personalized work arrangements? A broader focus on well-being? According to research, what are employees seeking from their employers in 2021? And how can businesses use this data to attract and keep the top talent?

Why businesses should be eager to attract and retain the right people

The impact of a highly engaged workforce is undeniable – from turnover to productivity, strong engagement can make all of the difference between a business and their competitor.

One part of building engagement is attracting and retaining the right people – those who are aligned with the organizational values, and committed to doing their best work.

But how can leaders fill their organization with the best people? In an increasingly competitive race for talent, it’s critical to understand what employees are looking for. Many businesses have tried to attract the right employees – but often miss the mark by focusing on perks and gimmicks over strategy and creative policies and culture shifts.

According to research, what are employees seeking from their employers?

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging

While many businesses have begun to understand the importance of actively striving for diversity in recent years, diversity in metrics is only one part of the equation. Diversity can be defined by how many different demographics are reflected in your workforce, across areas like race, ethnicity, age, gender, and more. But the next layer looks beyond the numbers: Do those different demographics experience equity in the workforce or are they marginalized, relegated to the bottom-ranks or otherwise pushed out? Do they feel welcome and encouraged to bring their full selves to work or do they feel that they have to hide elements of their identity to fit in? Increasingly, employees are seeking employers who place an emphasis on diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging – through actual investment and on-going initiatives.

Employee Experience + Life Experience

Managing the experience of employees – from how they’re on-boarded to how they exit – is becoming par for the course, but supporting the broader life experiences of employees is also gaining traction. According to a recent survey by Gartner, supporting employees with life experiences is linked to an almost 20% increase in the number of employees reporting improved physical health, and an almost 25% increase in the number of employees reporting improved mental health.

Life experience is more encompassing than the traditional wellness and benefits packages – it also extends into mental health, financial health, and physical health. And as more employees are affected by the pandemic at every avenue, this shift towards how businesses can help employees manage life issues may become increasingly pronounced.

Social and Political Investment

According to research published in the Harvard Business Review, an increasing number of employees are looking for their employers to publicly take a stance on cultural, societal and political issues of the current day. Many employees are seeking cultural and value alignment with their work – they’re less attracted to businesses that remain silent or fail to take a stance. But they’re also looking for demonstrated investment in these issues – isolated statements are no longer sufficient, and employers who’ve invested resources into action have seen engagement spikes.


Location flexibility has been a major benefit that employees have sought after in recent years – particularly as the pandemic arrived and remote work solutions became even more of a norm. A lot of employees are seeking a permanent remote work option in order to “work from anywhere” and potentially relocate in a way that better suits their financial or familial and community needs. But time flexibility is becoming increasingly important, too. For work that doesn’t need to be synchronous, many people are looking for the ability to work in a way that is aligned to their lifestyle needs, or for the ability to personalize their work arrangements. For example, a night owl may prefer to work in the afternoon and evenings, while a parent may be looking to section their workday in a way that allows them to easily manage appointments, drop-offs and pick-ups. This also has implications for people with chronic illnesses, people who have caretaking duties, and other groups who may otherwise be side-lined by the traditional 9-5 expectations. From this lens, increasing time, location, and work arrangement flexibility can be a key part of inclusion.

Familial Well-Being

While well-being efforts have been an increasing part of benefit packages, many employees are looking for investment that expands to their entire family unit. This can include making resources available directly to the family, or adding resources that affect the family, such as childcare, elder care, or mental health benefits with family plans. This can also include the use of personalized work arrangements that benefit the family unit. As the future of work suggests changes to the physical way that we work, it is a logical progression for the work and family life to blend and expand beyond healthcare plans.

What can leaders gain from crafting their workplace to meet the needs of their employees?

When employee’s needs are met – businesses will essentially be building a high-engagement and high-retention workforce and maximizing their talent.

Classic management research has documented the impact of building a highly-engaged workforce. Employees who are highly-engaged have more energy, and experience less overload, sickness and burnout. In practice, this leads to more productive work, and in turn, more satisfied clients, and generally better workplace outcomes in areas like safety, quality, and shrinkage compared to their peers who are disengaged.

These differences are so pronounced that companies with high employee engagement can even show almost 20% improvement in operating income, and 2.5x more growth in earnings per share.

Ultimately, by creating a more flexible work environment where people can craft personalized work arrangements to suit their lifestyles, enhancing well-being and lifestyle experience initiatives, investing in political and societal issues, and improving diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging efforts, leaders will go a long way in crafting a workplace for the future.