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What employees expect in 2021

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To retain top talent in the wake of COVID-19, employers need to understand employees’ evolving motivations and aspirations.

2020 is a year that will live in infamy. From lockdowns to layoffs, the pandemic wreaked havoc on every aspect of daily life. Companies and consumers cut corners to make ends meet—and hoped that relief would come quickly in 2021.

But as time marches on, uncertainty remains. Slow vaccine rollouts have delayed highly anticipated re-openings. Economic recovery has been hamstrung. And the global labor market, which shed the equivalent of 255 million full-time employees in 2020, could lose as many as 130 million more in 2021. In the US, women and people of color have borne the brunt of these losses, exacerbating the inequality that already exists in the workforce.

This turmoil continues to be traumatic for employees and executives alike. But nearly a year into the pandemic, it’s time to focus on the future. To better understand how employee perspectives shifted in 2020, as well as their motivations and aspirations for 2021, the IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV), in cooperation with Survey Monkey, surveyed more than 14,000 consumers across 9 countries in January.

We found that employees were generally satisfied with how their employers supported their well-being during the pandemic. Most employers received average or above-average marks for providing for the physical, mental, and financial well-being of employees. But fewer than 1 in 5 workers give excellent marks in any area.

This should give employers pause. While they met employee expectations last year, efforts that hit the bar in 2020 might fall short going forward. If executives want to retain top talent—particularly Gen Z and Millennials—they will need to understand employees’ evolving expectations, motivations, and aspirations for 2021.

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