21 for 2021


In many ways, 2020 has been a year we would all rather forget. As it comes to an end, now is the time to plan for a brighter 2021.

Throughout December, we’ll be posting an idea a day  from our team, to help you get your business and its people in shape for the new year.

Here they are – our 21 for 2021.

Get ready for Brexit

It’s still far from clear what will happen on January 1 – will the UK be in a new deal with the EU, or crash out without one? Either way, you’ll need to be ready, especially if you employ EU citizens or plan to recruit internationally. Make sure they have applied for the right documentation, and that you understand new immigration and travel arrangements. More here.

Dealing with the taxing matter of IR35

The not-very-catchily-named IR35 rules deal with “off-payroll working”. These usually apply when a contractor provides their services to a client through their own limited company. The rule is to make sure that this kind of worker pays broadly the same tax and National Insurance contributions as an employee would. The responsibility rests with the employer – so if you employ anyone like this, make sure you’re ready to avoid falling foul of the taxman. The Government’s advice on these new rules are here.

Onboarding new recruits

They say you should start as you mean to go on – and that’s never more important than when you’re welcoming a new member of staff. Get going on the right foot and you’re more likely to have employees who are happy, productive and likely to stick around. This is especially important during these uncertain times, and if you are onboarding people remotely. Our People Processes page has more info on how we can help.

Tackle Survivor Syndrome

It’s been a very tough year, and unfortunately many businesses have had to let some people go. Responsible employers will have done everything they can to support people who have been made redundant – but don’t forget those who have been left behind. Survivor Syndrome can leave remaining employees feeling stressed, confused, guilty and worried, and it’s important to support them as you move forward under your new structure. Make sure everyone knows what is expected of them. Good communication is key here, as our Survivor Syndrome blog explains in more detail.

Holiday entitlement – it’s all change

The pandemic meant holiday arrangements were far from normal for many workers, including those who were furloughed, and those who carried on working and perhaps took less leave than they were entitled to. The Government has made changes to Working Time Regulations which allow workers to carry up to four weeks of annual leave into the next two leave years, if they choose to. Plan carefully to make sure your organisation is set up to cope with this. This piece from the CIPD answers some commonly-asked questions about Working Time Regulations.

Time to re-engage with your people

Staff who feel appreciated and engaged will help your business thrive. Following a long period in which communication may have been difficult, especially if staff spent it working remotely, 2021 may be the year when you spend time re-engaging with your teams. Everyone has experienced the effects of the pandemic differently, and the Insights Discovery process, carried out by our trained practitioners, can be invaluable in helping you understand the impact on your people and their team dynamics. Wherever your people work, your people need to know they are valued – and our employee engagement services are here to help.

Help your people to level up

Your teams may look very different going into 2021 than they did at the start of 2020. You may have fewer people, or a different mix of managers and frontline workers. Especially if your teams are tighter, you’ll want to make sure your people have the skills they need to perform at their best. It is vital that line managers are properly equipped to run teams and share knowledge – and our management training can help. The Insights Discovery process, carried out by our trained specialists, can help here – as well as identifying the personality traits of individuals, it can help you understand the strengths you have in your team and the best ways to get them working together effectively.

Focus on furlough

It was on, it was flexible, it was off and it was back on again! Throughout 2020, the furlough scheme has kept many businesses afloat and supported people who would otherwise have lost their livelihoods to the pandemic. However, the scheme is far from straightforward and it’s important to note how it will continue to evolve before it ends in March (unless that changes again…). We can help interpret the rules and financial implications for your business. Our Extended Furlough Scheme factsheet is a good place to start.

You’re hired! Take on an apprentice

There’s time to take advantage of incentive payments for employers who hire a new apprentice – but you’ll have to hurry as these end on January 31, 2021. The scheme offers £2,000 for every new apprentice aged 16 to 24, and £1,500 for those aged 25 and over. Employers receive 50% after the apprentice completes 90 days, and 50% at the end of a full year. This can be claimed on top of the £1,000 already offered for those who hire apprentices aged 16 to 18, and for those aged under 25 with an education, health and care plan or who have been in local authority care. You’ll want to draw up an apprenticeship contract, and our team can help with that – here’s how. There’s a lot more information about the various types of apprenticeships, and the payments to businesses, here.

Where there’s a Wellness Action Plan, there’s a way

Happy, engaged employees don’t just appear by accident. Businesses should actively plan for nurturing the wellbeing of their people, working with them to spot any issues early and helping them grow in their roles and progress to their full potential. Having a Wellness Action Plan in place is a good starting point towards making this happen – and we think every employee should have one! Our 10-point Wellness Action plan Guide talks you through the best way to go about it. Bonus – the guide is free, and we make a donation to Young People’s Independent Counselling (YPI) for every download.

Get going if you’re raring to recruit

One side-effect of the pandemic is that now is a surprisingly good time to recruit – there are plenty of good candidates out there who have lost jobs through circumstances that are no fault of their own. The rise in remote working means that it’s easier to get them online for an interview, and if people are out of work there’s no notice period to worry about. All that, plus a determination to make 2021 the time for a new start, means employers in a good position to recruit could have rich pickings. More info on our blog here and don’t forget, we can support recruitment at any level – from sifting candidates to running the whole process. Find out about our recruitment services here.

Work from home effectively

Zoom, Teams, WFH, jokes about still being in your pyjamas for video calls – all very 2020! However, as working from home, or blend of the home and workplace, are very much here to stay, you’ll want to give people who are working from home in 2021 as much support as possible. It’s not all about Zoom quizzes and regular check-ins – there are HR fundamentals to tackle in the short and longer term. Right at the start of the pandemic the Reality HR team – who are used to flexible and remote working – offered their personal tips in our Working From Home guide, which is still a relevant read.

Managing remote teams

Whether you were new to managing teams who began remote working because of the pandemic, or have had home working as part of your setup for some time, you’ll want to get the best out of employees who you don’t see in person day to day. At first, for many, it was a way to get by, but if it looks as if some aspect of remote working features in your organisation’s long term future, then make sure you’re managing your people effectively. Our free 10-point guide to Managing a Team of Remote Workers is a good place to start, and we can provide bespoke support for your business through our Homeworking: HR Essentials toolkit.

Review your risk assessments

The year 2020 has been all about minimising risk, and of course Covid-19 security should be at the top of the list for any employer asking their people to come into a workplace. However, Covid is not the only risk factor in town. Wherever your people work – and that includes their homes – it’s an employer’s responsibility to make sure their health and safety are considered. For example – can you say, hand on heart, that all your home workers have completed a Display Screen Equipment (DSE) workstation assessment? If you can’t, you could be storing problems up for the future.

Fielding flexible working requests

If 2020 was the year of working from home, expect 2021 to be the one where flexibility rules. Employers have long been obliged to consider flexible working requests, and to do so in a fair and consistent way. However, now that the idea of working effectively from home has been “proven” for many, it’s going to be harder than ever to decline these requests without very good reason. For many businesses a change of mindset could be good news – flexible workers are often happier and more productive. Our Flexible Working Factsheet has all you need to know.

All things being equal…

Equality of opportunities, pay and progression should run through your business from the top down. It applies from the first time you advertise the most junior role, up to the appointment of a CEO, and everything between. If your processes aren’t rigorous and your managers trained in diversity issues, you may be leaving the door open for trouble later on. Remember, this applies to all protected characteristics including race, sexual orientation and gender. Organisations which employ more than 250 people are required to publish a Gender Pay Gap Report – but every business should be ensuring they are treating all employees fairly and to the same criteria. Our team can run bespoke diversity and equality training for your business over video – for information on this, and the whole range of Reality HR training courses, download our training brochure.

Embrace change in the way you work

Over the past year, your business may have adapted hugely – especially when it comes to remote working. However, while you may now have “location flexibility”, have you truly embraced other forms of change such as flexibility of working hours? If staff are logged on from 9am to 5pm at home, just as if they were in the office, you may not be reaping the potential productivity and wellbeing benefits. Perhaps 2021 is the year for a change of emphasis towards measuring outcomes and productivity, not just hours spent at a desk. Understanding how you can support and improve the work of underperforming employees is vital – there’s some helpful advice from our team here.

Time to listen

When you make a major change to your organisation – for example a restructure or redundancy process – you are obliged to consult with them. But why only show interest in what they have to say during the bad times? Good managers don’t just talk – they listen. If your business is all about one-way communication then you are missing out on happier teams and the good ideas they can bring to the table. So, in 2021, think about ways you can engage them – employee forums, feedback surveys, and one-to-ones. We know that effective communication with teams can be difficult if they are working remotely, and there’s helpful advice on that from our team here.

Perk up your staff benefits

Salary is only one factor in the decision-making process for new recruits, and existing team members who may be thinking about moving on. If salary is the only “perk of the job” then your recruitment and retention will suffer. Make it a priority in 2021 to put yourself in an employee’s shoes and think about what makes you attractive to them as an employer. This doesn’t need to come at huge financial cost – flexible working, a day off on a birthday, and even free office snacks can have a huge impact on happiness. Small things make a big difference! There’s more information about which perks workers value in our blog here.

Be transparent about pay rises

Nobody enjoys talking about pay but it shouldn’t be a taboo. After such a difficult year, there may be tricky questions to answer and conversations to have in 2021 – particularly if you are making a decision to freeze pay or make cuts. Don’t clam up and hope the issue will go away – like almost every HR issue, communication is the key here. Your people are far more likely to be understanding if you tell them the reasons for your decisions. Manage their expectations in advance of any planned pay reviews to avoid conflict, and make sure they are aware of other ways, aside from salary, that they are rewarded and valued. Our team can help you communicate on difficult topics – our employee engagement page has more information.

Think carefully about confidentiality

Lots of us will be working from home during 2021 – and quite probably holding video meetings or telephone calls while our spouses, partners and children are around. Is it appropriate for those calls and meetings to be overheard? Not everyone will have a private work space in their homes and so you will want to remind your employees of their obligations to ensure privacy and protect any confidential or sensitive material, and remind them that this still applies whether working in the office, at home or in a café or other public place. Do you have confidentiality policies in place? Have your people been given a Data Handling Policy? Do they understand GDPR? They should! Find out the full facts in our blog here.