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The Outside Forces That Will Impact Businesses Most in 2021

Today’s post comes to us from the executive director of The Workforce Institute, Dr. Chris Mullen, Ph.D., SHRM-SCP, SPHR.

The other day, I happened upon an episode of a podcast from The New York Times called The Argument. On this podcast, a conservative columnist (Ross Douthat) and a liberal columnist (Michelle Goldberg) debate the issues of the day. I was delighted to hear that their guest was former Workforce Institute board member, Jared Bernstein. Jared was one of our original board members back in 2007 when The Workforce Institute was just getting started, and there was a lot of speculation about whether we, as a country, were about to enter a recession. Jared left the board when he joined the Obama administration as an economic policy advisor working for Joe Biden and has now joined the new Biden administration in a similar capacity. Jared was on The Argument talking about how the new administration can find bipartisan ways to work with congress to create meaningful economic change for the country as well as evolving thinking on employment levels, inflation, deficits, and his life's work, the benefits of full employment. It’s a great listen if you have the time (about 30 minutes): his interview starts HERE at 19:15).

Listening to Jared got me thinking about one of our predictions from this year: "Outside forces—including the pandemic, economy, and regulatory change—will push businesses to the brink."

Sometimes we get so focused on our own little corner of the world – the project due at the end of the week, that report we promised to deliver, just getting through an endless day of meetings – that we lose sight of what’s happening at a macro-level in the country and the world. But, as we’ve seen (again) in the past year: what’s happening outside our realm of control can have a huge impact on us in both our lives and our working lives.

I wanted to check in with our board members to get their thoughts on how these macro-issues will impact our working lives this year. Here’s what they had to say:

David Creelman, CEO, Creelman Research

“My sense is that businesses will be all over the map in terms of the risks they face and the juicy opportunities available. I'd want to keep in place the mechanisms and mindset that allowed companies to adapt quickly to the pandemic. Think of it as a time of rapid change, not as a time of being on brink.”

Nanne Finis, Chief Nurse Executive, UKG

“The healthcare industry will continue to experience significant impact due to the pandemic, economy, and increasing regulatory landscape. Healthcare must and will engage in the most significant change in many decades. There is an obvious need and a more compelling understanding of how national standards, regulations, and policy will support a more efficient and effective system for all. This pandemic has highlighted and clarified the essential needs of our population to have access to fair and equitable treatment and care. Those organizations that have used this time to build their infrastructure to support their own employees and patients will be on the leading edge when it comes to externally focusing on their contributions to their populations at large and will set the tone and direction for many organizations that will follow.”

John Frehse, Senior Managing Director, Ankura Consulting

“Although some businesses will enter bankruptcy due to outside forces, others will thrive. This ‘winners and losers’ outcome is largely based on how agile companies were heading into the pandemic and how rapidly others became agile as conditions deteriorated. Yes, there will be losers, but filling demand for those products and services no longer available has and will continue to create market opportunities for those strong enough to remain viable. Labor and the strategies that drive labor performance have been critical variables deciding these outcomes.”

China Gorman, Leadership Consultant and Speaker, Former CEO of the Great Place to Work Institute, Former COO of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)

“As with previous predictions, it all comes down to trustworthy leadership. As business leaders work hard to adjust to changing regulations and a new political environment, they need to be seen as the one source of truth for their employees, suppliers, and customers. This is no time for equivocation. Communication must be frequent, honest, caring, and – as much as possible – free from politics.”

Alexandra Levit, Human Capital Author, Analyst, Consultant, and Futurist; Managing Partner, PeopleResults        

“I agree with the prediction of increasing regulations alongside increasing violations. By leveraging automation to handle administrative and operational tasks such as scheduling and compensation, HR leaders can place their attention on not only keeping pace in terms of compliance, but in being two steps ahead in caring for the mental and physical health and wellbeing of their workforces.”

Dennis Miller, Associate Vice President of Human Resources and Benefits Administration at The Claremont Colleges

“The largest impact for 2021 to all business will definitely continue to be the impact of the pandemic, and the slow implementation of vaccine administration toward reaching that elusive goal of ‘herd immunity’. If or when that has been reached, the work effort of country-wide vaccine programs could likely need to be repeated depending on the length of time the vaccination will actually last. Companies should focus on solidifying their policies and procedures regarding remote work programs, safety-based programs, and programs where they can openly exercise intentional compassion for those employees who continue to struggle to balance family needs with work needs. Programs that were launched nine or six months ago that were designed to be ‘temporary’ are already becoming the norm, and the sooner organizations acknowledge this fact, the more focus they can assert toward their business objectives.”

Neil Reichenberg, Former Executive Director of the International Public Management Association for Human Resources (IPMA-HR)

“With a new administration in the United States committed to worker-friendly policies, there is expected to be proposed regulatory and legislative change along with enhanced enforcement efforts. According to the law firm Seyfarth Shaw LLP, over 1,000 coronavirus workplace lawsuits were filed during 2020 with challenges to terminations being the most common allegation followed by retaliations for raising safety violations. By industry, healthcare was first, followed by business services and manufacturing. Employers should consider compassionate, caring, and flexible workplace policies that will help to enhance the employee experience, engagement, and productivity.”

Thanks to our board members for their thoughts on these issues – it’s always of value to read so many differing perspectives.

I'll also include a plug here for UKG's Workforce Activity Report, a monthly look at the health of the frontline working economy. UKG produces this report each month by analyzing weekly employee shift work and pay statement trends across 30,000 U.S. businesses and 3.2 million employees. It provides a great snapshot of the current state of business and is an easy way to keep an eye on the big picture.

What about you? What “outside” issues do you see affecting your working life in 2021? Tell us about it in the comments and don’t forget to subscribe to The Workforce Institute so you don’t miss any of our great content.

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