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Major Employee Experience Trends for 2021: People, Planet, and Performance

We've arrived here in the most unexpected of ways. An increasingly digital, human-centred and experience-driven economy was being built before the pandemic, and its progress has accelerated at a speed and scale that no-one, and I mean no-one, could have predicted. But what now for organizations and workforces? Where are the next set of business and HR priorities leading us? How can we get out ahead and co-create the future of work?

Well, if you enjoy a good mission, then this challenging period of time for everyone has created one that many of us can get behind; the creation and transformation of companies into organizations that progress humanity, society, and the planet. Serving not one or the other, but all of those of important stakeholders. Indeed, the most enlightened of businesses deliver truly high performance when they consider and make a positive impact holistically and across all their stakeholder groups. It's a point I made in a recent webinar appearance and a subsequent e-book on 2021 HR trends with Perkbox - you can access the webinar here.

In our research and work with clients and colleagues, we've identified several major themes that are driving conversations that matter at executive level right now. Those conversations quickly turn to action as companies set their objectives for the coming months, quarters, and years. What's changed in the past year? Well, everything and nothing. To those at the vanguard of human and employee experience, they have adapted, responded and pivoted their business models in ways that work for their people. Business as usual, you could say. They've been listening and learning in real-time, and applying new prototype experiences, products, and services to help people deliver their best work. For others, it's catch-up time as they come to the realisation that the old ways of practicing HR do not cut it anymore.

To support you in this important work, I wanted to share several insights from an extensive period of research on employee experience and what is high on the agenda right now for business executives. I'm fortunate to work with many wonderful brands that have or are already putting their people-first. Many take the position that it's simply the right thing to do yet with any work on EX, the results are often career-defining for those embedded within or leading such projects. It is change that is certainly felt and experienced by everyone involved, and it's the type of work we now need to accelerate into the long-term future of business. Where to make an impact in 2021? Here are a few places to start with...

  • Human Leadership: In an uncertain and challenging world, human-centred leadership is of critical importance. Developing organizations filled with high quality leaders who put people-first and lead with empathy, compassion, and integrity is a high priority to create sustainable and impactful businesses especially in light of widespread remote and 'essential worker' arrangements due to COVID-19. We are keen to see examples of a systematic commitment to human-centred leadership, at every touchpoint across the human experience at work.

  • The Hybrid Organization: The world of work has changed, in many cases, for the better. With more choice and control over how outcomes are delivered, workers and companies have begun to understand the potential of building their companies around life in a holistic way. We are actively observing new models and ways of delivering positive outcomes across different workforces and contexts. We are keen to explore the consequences, challenges, and outcomes associated with a balanced approach to work between home, office, and elsewhere.

  • Business for all stakeholders: A shift has been taking place within corporations in recent years to promote a business agenda that better serves all stakeholders within and around a business, rather than a narrow focus on shareholders, short-term profits, and ideas associated with perpetual economic growth. This is an area of great interest (and potential long-term impact) and we are studying companies that take a multi-stakeholder view in and across their business operations today.

  • Redefining Performance: What is high performance in 2021? High performance can often be delivered to the detriment of others, and there is a growing argument that 'winning at all costs' is no longer a viable path forward to create admired, respected and trusted brands. Is it 'high performance' if people, planet or partners suffer as a result of a brand's growth agenda? This theme is also being explored in the context of changes in expectations at individual, organizational, and societal levels. How people are enabled to deliver their performance is also an area to explore given the rise of the surveillance economy (Eg. tracking, intrusive and inhumane performance software) in the workplace, and changes to performance systems and approaches (Eg. systematic focus on outcomes rather than the traditional dependency on rigid and controlling bureaucracy and inputs).

  • Our Planet: Businesses have a profound opportunity to make a positive contribution to the planet. They also have limitless potential to create or facilitate a wide range of negative outcomes in the world. In 2021, the economy is moving beyond a narrow focus on fragmented CSR , environment and sustainability initiatives. We are actively exploring cases and examples where organizations have built or pivoted their business models into planet-friendly enterprises.

  • A New 'HR': The notion and management idea that humans are merely 'resources' is being strongly challenged by those practicing in the HR profession and HR outliers around the world. The question now is concerned with what comes next? How can organizations create internal support functions that better serve people and the human experience at work? The momentum behind more progressive ideas is increasing, and this will be high on our agenda again this year.


Ben Whitter is the CEO of HEX Organization and was recognised by Thinkers50 as one of the world's top management thinkers in 2021.

Ben is best known for pioneering the concept of Employee Experience (EX) globally and is the best-selling author of Employee Experience. His book was published in 2019 by Kogan Page, and debuted as the #1 new HR book in the USA; it features the Holistic Employee Experience (HEX) model, which is based on his original and extensive global research. His forthcoming book, Human Experience at Work, will be published in May. Ben is a sought-after speaker and has delivered talks on EX across +30 countries. His work has been featured in The Times, The Telegraph, Forbes, The Financial Times, The Economist, People Management, and many more.

Ben and his team support the development and growth of holistic, human-centred and experience-driven companies through coaching, consulting, and certification programmes including the popular Holistic Employee Experience (HEX) Practitioner programme. This flagship online programme is fully focused on building the knowledge, skills, and advanced capabilities that are urgently required for the modern human-centred professional & leader.

For all general enquires, please contact our team at: or connect with HEX Organization.


Join the HEX Nation and make an impact with us in 2021!

HEX Nation is our borderless global community of clients, HEX Practitioners, and partners, which encourages freedom of thought within our movement to inspire and energise our collective progress. Members gain access to and co-create exclusive content, insights, events, and information to support their colleagues, companies, and careers. Members often feature in our publications and directly lead/contribute to our work.

You can become a client, or start your own journey to becoming a certified HEX Practitioner, by contacting us at


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