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Top European HR challenge: putting the human back in HR


What a difference a year makes. Last year, European companies were still mainly concerned with operational HR tasks: payroll calculation and payment, and HR service to employees were seen as their main challenges. This year, the focus is more than ever on people. Employers, from Spain to the Nordics, consider staff welfare and resilience their number one HR challenge for the coming years. Next in line: employee experience and engagement. “The Covid pandemic has had a serious impact on how we organise our work. It is no coincidence that businesses are investing more time and efforts in their most important assets: the people. Businesses care for their people, more than ever, and that’s their main challenge for next year”, says Cathy Geerts, Chief HR Officer at SD Worx, a leading European HR and payroll services provider.

With its yearly employer survey ‘The Future of Work and People’, SD Worx keeps its finger on the pulse of how entrepreneurs and HR professionals look at the future. If one thing is clear from the 2021 edition, it’s that there’s a great desire for more people-centric policies. Cathy Geerts: “The operational fallout from the first Covid waves and the subsequent economic uncertainty have been dealt with. Now, it’s time to focus back on growth. And that inspires companies to put their most important capital back at centre stage: the people. To illustrate, the top 5 HR challenges – in the eyes of European companies – are about (re)connecting with and empowering the workforce: employee welfare and resilience, employee experience and engagement, attracting new talent, sustainable employability and talent development.”


    of European companies put staff welfare and resilience in their top 5 HR challenges


        SMEs worry about sustainable employability

        When comparing SMEs to mid-sized and large companies, we see some striking differences. For example, the sustainable employability of employees is of much greater concern for smaller business. How can they ensure long, satisfying and meaningful careers for their staff? “This could be explained by the fact that there are less (vertical) career opportunities in SMEs, because the organisation is smaller. That means there’s more challenge in creating meaningful development options, including horizontal and diagonal career moves”, says Cathy Geerts. Only ‘staff welfare and resilience’ scores higher on the HR challenge list of SMEs. In larger companies, we notice the same people focus, but with different emphases: the organisation of teleworking and hybrid working as well as employee retention enter the top 5 HR challenges, while the war for talent also scores relatively higher. “In larger companies teleworking is more used and they may have more challenges to keep the colleagues connected to the organization. We also see more turnover in large enterprises, which explains the why the war for talent is seen as one of their top challenges”, Cathy Geerts adds.


            Striking national differences

            Just as with the different company segments, the people focus is noticeable for all countries – with ‘staff welfare and resilience’ topping the charts in half the surveyed countries. However, there are some noteworthy particularities. For example, British companies find employee retention and attrition the most challenging HR task for the coming years, while French and Belgian companies worry about how to attract and recruit new talents, German companies about sustainable employees and Nordic companies about welfare and resilience of their employees.


                Happy, healthy, productive

                To build organisational resilience and to generate true value, business leaders realise they’ll have to connect more directly and deeply with employees”, summarises Cathy Geerts. “And as employees increasingly take their careers into their own hands, prioritise a healthy work-life balance and expect everything to happen according to their rhythm and wishes, HR needs to pull out all the stops to keep up. Hence the people focus of today’s HR challenges. Those who can guarantee happy, productive and healthy employees have the keys to long-term success and keep their talented employees.

                Want to learn more? Download our free e-book ‘Top 10 HR challenges for 2022 (and how to overcome them)’.

                About the employer survey

                The online survey ‘The Future of Work and People in Europe 2021’ was conducted in June 2021. Over the course of several weeks, SD Worx managed to reach nearly 3,000 companies in 12 European countries/regions (Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Italy, Spain, Ireland, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Poland, the UK and the Nordics). The participants ranged from small companies (less than 100 employees) to large enterprises (more than 1,000 employees) and represent all 4 economic sectors.