Reflecting on the Biggest HR Challenges of 2021 and Looking Ahead to 2022

Published: December 2021


This year has seen organizations pivot from addressing the immediate needs of their employees to thinking more strategically about the future of work. We look back at the biggest talent and rewards issues of 2021 and what will remain in focus for 2022.

HR leaders have dealt with a variety of challenges in 2021 — from determining a go-forward strategy on remote work to addressing talent retention amid a “great resignation or reshuffle.” With the calendar year ending, we reflect on the most pressing topics our clients have been addressing and will continue to respond to in the new year, as we look ahead to new opportunities the future of work will bring. 

Evaluating Where and How People Work

In the beginning of 2021, many employers were still determining their return-to-office plans and remote working strategy. We published our location strategy guidebook to help companies think about the topic holistically. One consideration when allowing employees to work remote permanently is whether to adjust compensation based on where the employee is located if they are no longer tethered to a physical office. Geographic pay differentials have been around for a while, but our data showed more companies were refining their location-based pay strategies. See more in our article about the topic: As Many Workers Stay Virtual, Firms Consider Remote-Ability of Roles and Pay Adjustments.

By spring 2021, the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines were widely available in many parts of the world, and employers had to factor that component into their return-to-office plans. See our infographics on actions companies were taking with regards to vaccine mandates and how they maintained flexibility in their return-to-workplace plans. Many firms are continuing to adjust their plans and policies for health and safety protocols into 2022. 

The future of where people work is in flux. Many firms are taking a hybrid approach while continuing to seek employee feedback and assess the jobs that can effectively be done remotely. One thing is for certain: Remote working is on the rise, resulting in more fluid talent pools. Find additional insights in our article, Talent Recruitment Has Changed: What it Means for Peer Groups, Benchmarking and Employee Experience.

Addressing High Employee Turnover

By the summer of 2021, the terms “The Great Resignation” or “The Great Reshuffle” became more widespread, reflecting higher employee turnover. Aon’s workforce survey data shows an uptick in hiring activity, bringing more job opportunities for workers. However, there’s another factor contributing to turnover. Following the onset of the pandemic, many employees have reported rethinking what they want out of their career and life. We examined the status of employee turnover and strategies companies can take in our article: Is ‘The Great Resignation’ Real? We Analyzed Salary Increases and Turnover to Make Sense of a Competitive Labor Market.

There are many strategies employers can use to attract and retain talent. Much of the work begins with investing in reskilling and upskilling employees to keep them engaged and meet future company skills requirements. Part of that work involves implementing job architecture that is aligned with the current and future needs of the organization and activating workforce agility so that employees can more easily move into and out of roles.

Another critical component for engaging talent is taking a holistic approach to total rewards. Companies are re-evaluating their total rewards to ensure they are getting the most out of their investment. Aon approaches total rewards through five components: physical, social, emotional, career and financial needs. These focus areas must be balanced against the employer brand and culture, resources and budget, and employee desires. You can watch our video and view our latest infographics on total rewards here.

Delivering on DE&I Goals

Improving diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) goals and tracking progress was another big HR focus area in 2021, and an area we know organizations will continue to emphasize going forward. We explored this issue in our guidebook, Driving Positive Change Through Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

There are certain actions companies can take no matter where they are on their DE&I journey. One positive development we have seen is a willingness and enthusiasm by employers to engage with stakeholders on this topic. Organizations are expanding the definition of DE&I (for example, considering how to accommodate neurodiverse job candidates) and setting specific goals depending on their own fact pattern and situation. Local companies in Asia, for instance, may measure success differently than a multinational company based in the United States, but the end goal of creating a more diverse and inclusive workforce remains the same (learn more in our article, How Organizations Across Asia Approach DE&I in Their Workforce).


As we think about what 2022 holds, we know the progress organizations have made on tackling some of the biggest challenges and opportunities of today will continue. If you have questions about the topics discussed here, please write to

General Disclaimer
The information contained herein and the statements expressed are of a general nature and are not intended to address the circumstances of any particular individual or entity. Although we endeavor to provide accurate and timely information and use sources we consider reliable, there can be no guarantee that such information is accurate as of the date it is received or that it will continue to be accurate in the future. No one should act on such information without appropriate professional advice after a thorough examination of the particular situation.

Terms of Use
The contents herein may not be reproduced, reused, reprinted or redistributed without the expressed written consent of Aon, unless otherwise authorized by Aon. To use information contained herein, please write to our team.

Talk to an Expert

Let us know how we can help and a member of our team will be in touch shortly.

Aon group companies will use your personal information to contact you from time to time about other products, services and events that we feel may be of interest to you. All personal information is collected and used in accordance with our privacy statement.

If you do not wish to receive these communications, please check here: