As the year draws to a close, it is always good to reflect on emerging themes and patterns from the last 12 months. And 2020 has provided lots to reflect upon! In the first half of 2020 we underwent sudden and traumatic change that affected all of society, and from a work point of view, some were lucky enough to be able to work from home, some having to adapt considerably to safely still work in their workplace, and some losing their jobs. This change has then continued into the second half of the year and further change will come in 2021 as we adapt to, hopefully, the slow exit from the toughest experiences of this pandemic. I have been reflecting on the interesting impact on how we might potentially view the areas of wellbeing, inclusion and engagement.

Wellbeing has been central to most organisations people strategies in 2020. Physical wellbeing has been affected by restrictions to free movement, gym closures and at-home working equipment/locations for many. Mental wellbeing has been impacted by the change in physical wellbeing along with the social isolation and fragmentation experienced by the majority as we have endured lockdowns, cancelled social engagements and being dispersed from our work colleagues. Wellbeing has become a core priority for strategic people decision making rather than a secondary thought, as it was previously in many organisations. The specialism of Wellbeing in HR has risen in prominence during the past year.

Inclusion has also been a focus in 2020 for a number of reasons. These include socio-economic differences in the workforce that have restricted many from the quality home workspaces they need and the technology to feel part of the level-playing field. School home-working challenges highlighted the difference in the ability of children from inner cities and deprived areas to access learning compared to those from more affluent areas. This has been the same in adult workers, yet maybe not as highlighted by the media. Those with a susceptibility to mental health issues have struggled to adapt to new working environments and have been excluded from conversations and attention, often subconsciously, as out of sight is sometimes out of mind. Including everyone equally in our dispersed teams has been an inclusivity challenge.

Engagement, as a topic, saw a huge dip in focus in the first six months of the pandemic as traditional measures of the “annual survey results versus last year” quickly became obsolete and useless to gauge the current employee “mood”. The Engagement proposition, as peddled for many years as a monolith of a reporting tool, will never be the same again. Engagement is returning to its true origins and meaning: How motivated are our people to come on the strategic journey with us? With everyone having individual variants actively playing out daily in their life, such as personality traits, mental health, home setup and family commitments affecting their work so much more, engagement is becoming closer to individual experience of which work is just one aspect, albeit an important one.

My observation therefore, as 2020 draws to a close, is a question: Are wellbeing, inclusion and engagement converging and overlapping more that our perceptions of them this time last year?

The fact that these three areas have so many common aspects that affect all three concepts of wellbeing, inclusion and engagement, then do we need to change our thinking on how HR leaders and CEOs view this trinity? Should they converge into an “individual experience” taskforce? Diversity and Inclusion have been lumped together over the last few years, yet are pretty distinct concepts. Diversity, by itself, is an important driver, used often proactively to ensure any structural change to the workforce population make-up is fair and proportionate to the demographic definitions you choose to apply. Inclusion, being more of a current and in-the-moment concept, potentially supports the wellbeing and engagement agenda more closely, especially if inclusion surpasses physical characteristics and includes such things as mental and personality-based characteristics.

The Dispersed Team, a fragmented and sometimes isolating structure that many are working in at the moment, is here for the medium-term at least as we slowly recover from the pandemic with Covid-secure offices and restrictions to public transport capacities etc. Organisations need to accept that a good people strategy in 2021 needs to be transformational, in that we keep what we liked from 2020 but are ready to challenge anything that is “status-quo” of the 2019-world to make sure it is still fit for purpose. We need to experiment with new experience-improving ideas to learn and adapt to how this shifted way of working can promote wellbeing, inclusion and engagement. And we need to be agile in how we make decisions on the way forward with our people; we are in a world of grey and flux at the moment and making a change based on some information is better than not making a decision at all.

2021 is going to be a great year for HR leaders and CEOs to have the license to reimagine everything about how they and their people work together and are successful together. Innovative organisations will prosper. HR needs to be at the centre of this with the rethinking the convergence of wellbeing, inclusion and engagement to create great people experiences!