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73 Percent of Executives See Disruption on the Horizon—and It’s Making Workers Nervous

Senior Partner and President, Career Business for Mercer

Every company says it puts its people first. But creating a collaborative, well-aligned workforce is a hard thing to do in practice—especially while managing the disruptions of AI, shifting employee needs and a growing skills gap.

According to Mercer’s just released 2019 Global Talent Trends, four out of five executives believe their companies can manage disruption, but only one in three executives rate their firms’ ability to mitigate HR risks as being very effective.

Awareness of the Problem Has Grown Rapidly

Seventy-three percent of executives predict significant business disruption in the next three years, compared to only 26 percent in last year’s study. Meanwhile, employees are looking for direction amidst so much uncertainty. One in three workers says their organization lacks a climate of trust and is concerned that AI and automation will replace their jobs.

These responses are understandable. In recent years, organizations have moved from anticipation to action in preparing for the future of work. But they risk bewildering people with too much change, ignoring the values people admire, and inundating them with endless process built around constant change, including the automating capabilities of AI and various software solutions.

What Does a Thriving Company Look Like?

The future of work should be about building a coherent sense of identity, sparking connections, and using data to personalize the experience of work. And because human beings thrive on relationships, productivity depends on each individual’s ability to network and build connections within and outside their company.

Employees identified in the Mercer survey as “thriving” (those we say are prospering in the areas of health, wealth, and career) are twice as likely to describe their role as “relationship-focused” and their work environment as “collaborative.”

2019 Top Talent Trends

In examining the differences among organizations—for example, how high-growth companies differ from those with moderate revenue growth, or how organizations beginning their digital journeys compare to those that are further along—Mercer’s study identified four trends that leading companies are pursuing in 2019.

Aligning work to future value. As AI and automation continue to transform the competitive landscape, 60 percent of surveyed companies plan to automate more work in the next 12 months. C-suites name “job redesign” as the area of talent investment with the highest potential for return on investment, and 65 percent of employees are asking for more clearly defined responsibilities.

For HR, the challenge is to build an integrated people strategy—an approach deployed four times more frequently by high-growth companies—and leverage the right talent analytics to inform decisions on the future size and shape of the organization.

Only one-third of companies have valuable insights into the business impact of their buy, build, borrow, and automate strategies. So it is important to align jobs and people to where the company believes future value will be created, enabling a mechanism that rewards future-fit skills and behaviors.

Employees are four times more likely to work for a company that ensures equity in pay and twice as likely to work for a company that offers flexible work schedules.

Values matter to talent. The way that a company conducts business and upholds the values of its brand matters to employees and job seekers. In a social, transparent world, lines are blurring between a company’s consumer brand and its talent value proposition (TVP).

Successful companies ensure that their brand resonates with all workforce segments—68 percent of high-growth organizations differentiate their TVP to different groups, including contingent workers, compared to 47 percent of modest-growth companies.

An organization’s total rewards philosophy is an area where brand values can shine: Thriving employees are four times more likely to work for a company that ensures equity in pay and promotion decisions (78 percent versus 18 percent) and twice as likely to work for a company that offers flexible work schedules.

Personalized professional development. An effective and relevant day-to-day work experience is essential for retaining top talent. According to Mercer’s study, thriving employees are three times more likely to work for an organization that enables quick decision-making and provides the tools and resources for them to do their job efficiently.

Personalized and simplified professional development plans are an ask from employees—more than half (56 percent) of employees want curated learning to help them evolve their skills and prepare for future jobs.

Technology plays a critical role: High-growth firms are twice as likely as moderate-growth firms to provide a fully digital experience for employees. How organizations use data and analytics to enable employees to make informed career choices is important.

Put HR at the center. To ensure talent is at the center of change, HR should have a voice in business transformation. This year’s study found that just two in five HR leaders participate in the idea-generation stage of transformation initiatives, which is concerning given the emerging human capital risks. HR sees employee morale as a significant barrier to making changes stick: “Employee attrition” and “a decline in employee trust” are two of the top challenges in the year ahead.

HR needs to ensure that its own function is strategic, lean and digital. Three-quarters of organizations say they are still on the journey to delivering a digital employee experience (no change from 2018). Delivering on this is one of executives’ top workforce concerns.

Companies leading the way are focusing on the interaction between HR and the workforce; one-third are planning to invest in AI to enhance the employee experience and deliver talent insights.

People-Centered Design

These findings from the 2019 Global Talent Trends study point to the need for transformation efforts to focus more on people-centered design and better talent metrics to understand how people are experiencing and embracing change.

After all, peoples’ aspirations and motivations often spark innovation and improve productivity. In a rapidly automating age, human factors should take center stage as companies build their workforces for the future.

Ilya Bonic

Senior Partner and President, Career Business for Mercer

Ilya Bonic is a Mercer senior partner and President of Mercer’s Career Business, based in New York.

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