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A Year in Review: What HR Professionals Learned in 2021

Written by
Laura Saracho
Laura Saracho

Well, everyone, we did it! Another year of uncertainty, upheaval, and a global pandemic that refuses to retreat, is in the rearview mirror.

For HR professionals, this year brought up more questions than ever, but it also brought many known issues into sharper focus. The world is watching as companies address things like social justice, the Great Resignation, the return to the office, and creating connection in hybrid environments.

In short, we’re all wondering what the future of work looks like, and here at Bonusly, we think it’s important to understand where we are now before trying to offer up any predictions for the future.

Jump right to it: 10 HR lessons learned in 2021

That’s why we interviewed some of HR’s brightest stars and asked them one simple question: What did you learn in 2021? The answers we received were varied, insightful, and offered lots of food for thought as we all attempt to figure out what’s next.

HR Year in Review

10 HR lessons learned in 2021

Lesson #1: Embracing best practices doesn’t cut it anymore

Our first bit of HR wisdom comes from Bonusly’s own VP of People Operations, Vicki Yang, who believes that the one thing HR leaders should be fighting now is the desire to revert back to best practices. “Saying ‘This is how we’ve always done it,’ is never a great thing, but it’s especially harmful now.”

But if you throw out what you knew before, what are you left with? According to Vicki, “We have an opportunity to rethink things, and nobody knows where the answer lies. It might be performance management, it might be benefits. The point is, we have to get creative and dig back into the problem we’re trying to solve.”

Cornell Woodson, Headspace Health’s Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging, has a lot to say on the subject as well. As he sees it, a change of this magnitude requires involvement beyond the core function of HR.

“This year has made it undeniably clear that these issues of diversity, inclusion, and belonging are not tangential to the business. They are the business. What I’ve noticed is many more senior leaders saying, ‘What can I do from my perspective?’”
- Cornell Woodson, Headspace Health

Cornell shares that at Headspace Health, his team is involving senior leadership in finding creative solutions to HR problems: “Through data, we’re developing suggestions of what the company should be focused on from a DEIB perspective. Then we’re taking that data to the senior leaders of each function to say, ‘Here’s how you can support these particular goals across hiring, product development, and content.’” 

Doing it this way—that is, using data to drive action and dispersing accountability throughout the organization—ensures this work doesn’t stay stuck at the “high-level insights” stage. As Cornell tells it, “We have no excuse not to drill down into each function and figure out how each senior leader can take accountability in their respective functions.” 

Looking for new solutions has led to several firsts for many industries. For example, more companies than previously seen are trying out a modified workweek, Headspace Health being one of them. The company has been experimenting with an alternating Friday schedule: one is a “no-meeting day,” and the next is a complete day off.

Headspace Year in Review

It’s hard to see where this phase of forgetting what we knew will take us, but the important thing is that people are experimenting. We’re all getting creative, and we’re all paying attention to results.

Want all 10 lessons? Download our free eBook, 10 Lessons HR Professionals and their Teams Learned in 2021

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Originally published on December 22, 2021 → Last updated December 22, 2021

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Laura Saracho

Laura is the content marketing manager at Bonusly and is passionate about employee engagement and uncovering creative, data-driven ways to drive impact. She loves writing and going on excessively long trail runs.

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