It might be a little early, in November to reflect on the some important events in 2021 and their impact.

2021 began in lockdown with the Government’s less than oven-ready Brexit package finally being put in place at the end of January. There was much talk in the months before Brexit of the “war for talent”. During the summer and beyond there has been much talk of the Great Resignation with, apparently 1 in 4 employees contemplating changing jobs in the next few months. The pandemic has forced us all to rethink and evaluate what is important to us as individuals and employees.

There is a greater focus not just on gender but on Equality Diversity and Inclusion strategies. How a business determines how to deal with ED&I will impact upon its success in attracting and retaining talent. For those considering a move significant numbers will want to know what a potential new employer’s ED&I strategy is and how it has made progress. Simply paying lip service to it will not suffice. It is well recognised that greater diversity and inclusion helps drive better performance. It will also help avoid discrimination claims.

COP 26 increased focus on the impact business has on the planet. The need following the Government’s announcement that by 2023 UK businesses must set out how they will be carbon neutral by 2050 will provide another touchstone for recruits to test a potential employer’s credentials. Earlier adopters will not only put themselves at the front of the pack but will help themselves stand out from others who might be in the market for their employees.

We can expect that the twin pillars of ED&I and action in respect of climate change will impact on retention and recruitment.

The following months saw a focus making preparations for the implementation of the delayed IR35 reforms in April and on vaccinations in the hope that they would facilitate the world of work returning to some form of normality. Many businesses relied on HMRC’s CEST tool in helping them determine whether arrangements with PSCs fell inside or outside IR35. The recent PGMOL decision has potentially thrown the applicability of CEST into doubt, depending on the outcome of the referred decision on whether there is sufficient mutuality if there was a contract or whether something more was required – an obligation to offer work and an obligation to accept it if offered. It also raised issues around the extent of control that was required. We can expect more developments around IR35 next year.

As the pandemic progresses business will have to determine how it is going to address the issue of vaccinations and return to work. The Government have remained silent on whether employees should be fully vaccinated to return to the office, leaving employers to make their own decisions. The Irish ICO has indicated that employees should not be asked their vaccine status. Employees who are currently working from home and not vaccinated are likely to feel excluded, there are, of course potential discrimination issues for those who are unable to have the vaccine due to disability or religious issues or arising from another protected characteristic. Some employers have pushed quickly to try to return to a normal work environment whilst others have been more circumspect returning to the office one or two days a week.

There has been much talk about resilience and the need for good mental health. Managers will need to ensure that they are staying in touch with their teams and supporting them, particularly through the winter months if there is only intermittent office working, to ensure that teams are not further isolated. For those who have not yet returned to the office they will have to consider how they will open the office up, carry out appropriate risk assessments and implement policies that will allow them to adapt to the evolving world of work.