The Human Agenda Is the Business Agenda

April 30, 2019

The Human Agenda Is the Business Agenda

Companies are recognizing that the modern workplace is posing some challenges to maintaining a healthy life. Take the UK, where 12 prominent banks and law firms—very traditional professions—launched the Mindful Business Charter, aimed at tackling long hours and reducing stress. The need for physical and mental wellbeing in times of change was prominent in the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report. And companies are hyperactively embracing change: Nearly all organizations say they are taking action to prepare for the future of work, according to the results of Mercer’s 2019 Global Talent Trends Study. 

Disruption is the most pronounced driver for all this activity—most notably technology transformation and the threat of new competition. And this course is set to continue, with nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of executives predicting disruption in their industry compared to only 26 percent last year.

What is striking in this year’s results is the realization that human capital risks threaten to overshadow transformation efforts. It is no stretch to say that people’s shrinking absorption capacity may be stalling progress. One in three workers say their organization lacks a climate of trust, and job security is the main reason they are loyal to their employer. In addition, technology is giving people the jitters with one in three employees worrying that artificial intelligence (AI) and automation may take their job. For the first time, the C-suite is asking for employee metrics on burnout and its business impact. The worry, however, is that only one in three executives rate their firms’ ability to mitigate human capital risks as very effective today. 

The way to help employees feel secure is to foster engaging human connections so individuals can thrive in their careers, even if their job is evolving around them. Mercer’s Global Talent Trends Study identifies four trends that leading companies are pursuing in 2019: 

  • Aligning Work to Future Value. Unlock growth in the new world of work by redesigning jobs and moving people to where future value will be created—whether this value creation is anchored in new service lines, new strategic partners, or new critical competencies. The C-suite names job redesign as the area of talent investment with the highest potential for return on investment. The challenge for HR is to deliver an integrated people strategy that can effectively deliver on these priorities (an approach deployed four times more by high-growth companies) and get creative about to how to reward future valued behaviors. 
  • Building Brand Resonance. Listen carefully and learn from data to create a brand proposition that attracts, and continually attracts, the talent you want. One way to achieve this is to ensure the brand resonates with all workforce segments—and today that might include contingent workers. The data reveal that 68 percent of high-growth organizations say they differentiate their talent value proposition to different groups compared to 47 percent of modest-growth companies. Equally important is to ensure brand values are upheld and permeate the daily work experience; journey mapping, moments that matter, equity in pay and promotion, and ethical conduct all weigh in here.
  • Curating the Work Experience. Make work simple, intuitive, and digitally enabled to help people grow and thrive. For employees inundated by information and choices, simplicity is key. Thriving employees are three times more likely to work for an organization that enables quick decision-making, and more than half (56 percent) want curated learning to help them prepare for future jobs. Achieving simplicity is also about ensuring relevance. AI and algorithmic decision making herald a new era of individualized benefits, careers, and rewards. 
  • Delivering Talent-led Change. Inspire a growth mindset by redesigning structures, workflows, and talent strategies around your people. To ensure the human agenda is at the center of change, HR should have a stronger voice in business transformation, as only two in five HR leaders say they currently participate in the idea generation stage of transformation initiatives.

Clearly, the imperative is to guard against change fatigue by creating a work environment that appreciates the opportunities ahead and inspires individuals towards a future vision. This research points to a few critical levers that organizations can use to move forward on this imperative in 2019.

1. Know your people. This may sound obvious, but the truth is a lot of companies are missing this fundamental principle. One-third of employees do not think their organization has a good understanding of their unique skills and interests. This requires organizations to understand from where people draw their energy and inspiration and how they want to grow in their careers. If companies do not know what skills people have today and what they aspire to achieve tomorrow, they are working with one hand tied behind their back. 

2. Get serious about sentiment. When are people engaged? What is causing poor morale? Is the company making progress on areas of equity and growth? Fifty-four percent of companies say they measure employee engagement at least twice a year. Yet, only 33 percent say they can identify the key drivers of engagement in their organization. And despite good intentions around gender parity, only 5 percent of companies conduct modelling to track and eradicate the drivers of unequal pay and promotions—yet we know that thriving employees are four times more likely to work for a company that delivers equity. It almost goes without saying that confident, engaged employees are more likely to make a go of transformation. 

3. Make health integral to the work equation. Two in five employees do not give their company a good grade when it comes to focusing on health and wellbeing. Leading companies are starting to add health metrics to the traditional yardsticks of success. Health could be easy to monitor; organizations already sit on data such as how long people hunch over laptops or work overtime. Rather than waiting for an employee to turn up exhausted, what is needed is a selection of adaptive work schedules for employees to choose from to make work, work for them—not to mention leaders incentivized to focus on their people’s health, wealth, and careers.

4. Time your transformation to suit your people. As the one function that touches every individual in an organization and understands the employee experience, HR is well placed to identify the right cadence for transformation efforts. For example, workers rushing to meet year-end targets and getting ready for the holidays will be less likely to commit to the transformation agenda, which is when most initiatives are typically launched. Making change stick requires HR to rethink how humans want—and can—work in a digital world. Engaging in design thinking that puts the end-user first gives HR the opportunity to think radically about talent processes and the HR lifecycle. 

What’s exciting is that getting this right strengthens individuals’ connections with and to the company. When this networked model is at its best, a collective sense of inspiration flows throughout the organization, transferring the anticipated shockwaves of disruption into sparks of brilliance. 

The Authors: 

Kate Bravery is Career Solutions Leader at Mercer and the lead for Mercer’s annual Global Talent Trends Study.