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With 2022 around the corner, Omni’s Managing Director Martin Wainman looks back at a year that presented unexpected challenges and opportunities for organisations and leaders.

In many ways, 2021 was even more challenging than its predecessor. While businesses grappled with the pandemic and the first wave of lockdowns, there was a clear vision of what needed to be done in 2020. Employee wellbeing was rightfully the top priority, with costs tightly controlled to protect jobs and profitability. The aim for most organisations was to make it through the year with the best results possible.

In contrast, this year saw a rapid recovery and complete turnaround in market conditions. Omni experienced a huge spike in client demand as hiring plans that were placed on hold resumed with urgency. At the same time, many sectors were experiencing acute skills shortages, largely due to Covid-19, Brexit and other sociopolitical factors. Balancing client needs with market conditions against a backdrop of tightly controlled costs meant 2021 presented the perfect storm.

 

The battle was on to secure skills. 

Most organisations were operating on the backfoot and working hard to stabilise resources. Not only did they need to regrow their headcount, but they knew effort was required to retain existing talent. As a result, companies inflated salaries and turned their attention to building strong employer brands to help them stand out from the competition. 

The savviest employers understood that going to market with just a vacancy was no longer enough and went to great lengths to inject creativity into their talent attraction efforts. While we saw some growth in attraction channels such as programmatics, the bulk of the work went into redefining  content on careers sites and employer brands that reinforced ’employer of choice’ messaging.

It’s been interesting to see a greater social conscience emerge in the last 12 months. Whether it’s due to a new, switched-on generation entering the workforce or a byproduct of events leading up to this point, organisations have been working on their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) policies. Employers understand that to secure talent, they must prove they are making strides towards becoming the organisation they aspire to be.

 

Employee wellbeing topped the agenda. 

In my July update, I reiterated the importance of leaders taking responsibility for the mental health and wellbeing of their people. From the outset of the pandemic, I knew candidates and employees would hold their employers to account for how they treated colleagues during this time, and that’s absolutely what happened. Some of the biggest failures in 2021 resulted from organisations failing to prioritise employee wellbeing and not showing empathy for their people.

This year saw changes in the wellbeing of the Omni team, which required attention. For some, who initially adapted well to home working found themselves struggling in 2021, realising it was perhaps no longer the best option for them. They expressed they were ready to start socialising and had an appetite to move back to the office, whilst others wanted the continued benefits home working brings, which led to us adopting a hybrid working model to cater to everyone’s work style and personal needs. 

However, some fundamental challenges arose with the hybrid model. For example, how can we maintain the culture we’ve worked so hard to develop? How can people see others demonstrating and living the organisation’s values when working remotely?  Additionally, there were concerns about in the moment coaching, performance and career development, not to mention all of the policy changes to consider, especially regarding information security and data protection.

Despite the challenges, implementing a flexible working model is essential for talent attraction and retention. Those organisations unwilling to adapt and demanding their employees  return to the office were arguably the biggest losers of 2021, as many were forced to rapidly reverse their decision after missing out on talent and seeing their attrition sky rocket.

 

Pace and focus are key to success. 

The winners of the year were those able to retain razor-sharp focus and operate at the pace required to make real-time decisions in the face of emerging challenges. Employers who understand where the market is, what candidates and employees want, and promptly respond to those demands are in the best position to succeed in what will eventually unfold as our ‘new normal’. I’ve been particularly impressed by SMEs that were able to protect their businesses and people this year. Without the same resources as larger organisations, they had to move quickly, stay agile and build resilience to successfully handle everything that’s been thrown at them so far.

For Omni, it’s been a busy, challenging and exciting year in a whole host of ways. I don’t think we’ve arrived at the ‘new normal’ just yet. We’re still learning and adapting to this transitional period. During this time, I firmly believe that leaders must remain visible to their people to explain the rationale behind decisions and show empathy while maintaining the acumen and drive to deliver what’s best for business. My advice is not to get blasé about having survived; keep your eyes open and listen intently to the needs of your employees and clients to ensure your organisation is in the best position to stay on track and achieve its goals in 2022 and beyond.

If you would like to work with us here at Omni then please get in touch.