Free lunches at the office. A complimentary gym membership. After-work happy hours at your team’s favorite local pub. These types of perks, offered by companies in the name of corporate culture and employee retention, now seem like relics of a bygone era in 2021.

The COVID-19 pandemic that dominated 2020 has fundamentally reshaped the way we live and work. In 2021, as businesses begin to return to full strength, hiring picks back up, and the economy starts to rebound, many businesses will face the challenge of retaining top talent as new opportunities present themselves. Here is how the pandemic has changed employee retention and what you can do to retain your organization’s top talent in 2021.

How employee retention has changed
This is a complicated question because, in some ways, employee retention strategies have changed and are still changing a lot in 2021. In other ways though, they haven’t truly changed at all. How is this possible?

The tools many organizations use for employee retention have been fundamentally altered by COVID. The lunches, gym memberships, and happy hours aren’t currently possible and, even when they are once again, they may still seem like perks from a different time and place. Other modern employee retention strategies such as free tickets to events, pet-friendly offices, or recognizing top talent with awards at big corporate retreats fall into the same category.

Even the more serious perks like occasional work from home opportunities or better healthcare benefits have less sway with the way things are trending in 2021. The perks and benefits that employers have relied on to help with employee retention for the last decade have been almost completely wiped out by COVID. This is a truth that will seemingly hold up for at least the near future.

While the nuts and bolts of employee retention have changed a lot, the underlying ideas behind them have not changed at all. In 2021, the same general concepts are still as important to employees as they were in 2019. Corporate culture is still important. Career advancement is still important. Work-life balance is still important and yes, perks are still important, too.

The biggest way employee retention has changed in 2021 is that employers are now being forced to get creative to address the same employee retention issues as always, just in new ways. Here are a few of the ways that employers can create a modern 2021 employee retention program.

Culture is still important
Corporate culture is still something workers care very much about in 2021, even if that term is no longer synonymous with office culture. The fact that these two terms have separated in 2021 means that leaders need to rethink how they create a culture where people feel connected to the greater organization. Virtual team building and other scheduled, connected non-work events are a good idea but you also need to be careful not to burn out employees who may already be on the verge of video conferencing fatigue.

A company that shares the employee’s values is another part of corporate culture that is still important to people too. Allowing your employees to have a voice in the causes your company supports and how it supports them is another great way to create a positive culture to help with employee retention without relying on a central office hub.

Career advancement is still important
Employees are much more likely to stay if they see a path to a bigger role (and a bigger salary) within the organization. With the diminished transparency and ability to give and receive quick, positive feedback that comes with working remotely, employees are less confident in their long-term prospects.

To help fight this phenomenon, the role of the “boss” is changing within organizations. As a viral Wall Street Journal article noted recently, the role of bosses in 2021 is changing to be less of a dictator and more of a coach. Managers must reassure employees that their position in the company is safe and help guide them through the right steps to move up. This will not only help people feel better about career advancement but also help create a more positive culture.

Work-life balance is still important
In the past, if you needed to check in with a coworker, you could pop into their office and see if they were in. If not, your check-in could probably wait until tomorrow. In today’s remote environment, the line between in and out of the office is blurrier than ever and employees who don’t feel that their work-life balance is being respected are more likely to leave.

As a leader, you need to create an environment where boundaries are created and respected. You may even need to take action if you find out certain people within the organization aren’t respecting the work-life boundaries. This situation is new to everyone so there are bound to be bumps in the road but the worst thing you can do for employee retention is not have some sort of work-life boundary plan in place.

The other piece of work-life balance you need to plan for is what to do once it is safe for everyone to come back to the office again. There will be plenty of workers who can’t or won’t want to return to the 40-plus-hours-a-week grind of office life. Coming up with a plan that offers the right mix of remote work policies that are good for the company and the employee will be critical in 2021.

Perks are still important
No matter how much things change, there are some constants. One of those constants is people like perks. You may not be able to take your sales team out to dinner right now for a job well done but why not send them a home meal kit or a nice bottle of wine they can enjoy at home? People still appreciate a gift that recognizes their hard work.

The other shift you can make in 2021 is away from physical health perks like a gym membership and instead toward perks that help improve mental health. So many people are struggling mentally after all that happened in 2020 and employers that invest in their employee’s mental health will see the benefits of more satisfied, focused employees that will also hopefully be happier both at home and in their job.