Win With Empathy: Collective Responsibility, Diversity And Flexibility Top Priorities For US Organizations In 2021, According To New Mercer Study

The COVID-19 pandemic, volatile economic implications, and protests against racial injustice are accelerating changes in the ways organizations in the US are working and investing in their employees.
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The COVID-19 pandemic, volatile economic implications, and protests against racial injustice are accelerating changes in the ways organizations in the US are working and investing in their employees. According to Mercer's 2021 Global Talent Trends Study, American business leaders have shifted expectations to take a more expansive view about an organization's responsibilities to communities as a whole, extending success metrics beyond shareholder return and placing individual and societal well-being at its core.

Prioritizing collective responsibility

Empathizing and delivering on the needs of a broader range of stakeholders became a key trend that emerged in 2020 - and is likely to persist. Many US employers stepped up in 2020 to protect jobs and pay during business closures, support caregivers and provide sick leave. As a result, two in five American companies today say managing inclusively with empathy has become more critical for future resilience.

"We're being challenged to rethink our individual and shared responsibilities to one another, to the institutions we work for, and to the societies and environments we live in. Contributing to collective responsibility will require businesses to balance purpose with profit to evolve as businesses that are more resilient, and ultimately more profitable," said Mary Ann Sardone, US Talent Solutions Leader at Mercer.

Gregg Passin, US Executive Solutions Leader at Mercer added, "Sustainable businesses have sustainable goals that factor in a multi-stakeholder approach. Tying ESG goals to the business' core value proposition and embedding ESG metrics into executive scorecards are just two of the approaches we see US companies pursuing in 2021 to drive action. In fact, organizations that integrate ESG metrics into the CEO's agenda are more likely to report high revenue growth."

  • 60% of US HR leaders say their company has continued or stepped up the pace towards an ESG and multi-stakeholder business approach.
  • With COVID-19 revealing that not everyone's future is equal, 55% of companies in the US are reexamining what is most relevant to different persona groups, signaling a shift towards greater personalization of inclusive benefits.
  • The biggest opportunity in sustainability strategies? To rethink how investments such as retirement portfolios can be directed toward sustainability — something just 8% of US companies do today.

Championing diversity and flexibility in all forms

While advancing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is hardly a new idea, the explosion of concerns spurred by racial violence and the Black Lives Matter movement has increased the urgency for improved analytics and understanding of employee needs when redesigning the workforce. Accountability and action on improving gender, race and wealth gaps will be front and center in 2021, and organizations in the US will invest more in DEI analytics and insights.

"With a focus on diversity comes the need for reinventing personalized and flexible solutions at work. This requires us to rethink flexibility as a whole: flexibility in policies, practices and benefits that will enable organizations to support people in their life and careers and deliver a better overall employee experience (EX).

"Given the experience of remote working and the need to adjust capacity swiftly in 2020, it's no surprise that 2021 US transformation plans are concentrated on reinventing flexibility in all its guises (48%), followed by expanding their talent and learning ecosystem (43%), and upskilling/reskilling toward critical talent pools (40%)," added Sardone.

Recent events have also increased the urgency for improved health and well-being benefits when redesigning the workforce. Kate Brown, Center for Health Innovation Leader at Mercer noted, "Particularly in the US, health and well-being benefit offerings have become a key differentiator for companies. Virtual access to healthcare, for example, has been accelerated by COVID-19 and is no longer an afterthought with over half (56%) of US companies planning to offer more access to remote health and benefit options, compared to 47% of their global peers."

  • While reskilling toward critical talent pools is a priority in US transformation plans (40%), only 28% of companies are gathering information on individuals' current skills, and fewer (9%) said they've implemented skills-based talent strategies.
  • Nearly half (45%) of US companies say they plan to improve analytics on pay equity in the year ahead.
  • 58% of US companies have set up a DEI council or taskforce to promote inclusivity.
  • There is much room for improvement. As US HR leaders map out future workforce strategies, only 16% are taking into account the impact of 2020's transformation or rightsizing plans on various minority groups, and just 15% are considering the pandemic's impact on these populations.

The path forward

In order to accelerate progress on these trends, organizations will need to consider several key priorities. Namely, developing a sustainability strategy, establishing clear organizational ownership of skills, committing to diversity, equity and inclusion goals and outcomes, making flexible working a promise and a practice, and prioritizing health and well-being.

"Going forward, people, processes, and technology initiatives will directly support business growth. HR leaders will need to act as strategic advisors on the people impacts of tough business decisions, while at the same time address employee concerns in a compassionate and transparent manner. Leading with empathy and enabling your organization to benefit from the wealth of diverse perspectives and ideas will make the year ahead one of productive recovery and reinvention," added Sardone.

About Global Talent Trends study

The sixth edition of Mercer's Global Talent Trends (2021) study shares insights from over 7,300 senior business executives, HR leaders and employees and, for the first time, has deep dive Companion Reports for 23 geographies, spanning 44 countries. To download the Global report, visit here. In conjunction, the Global Talent Trends 2020-2021 Local Companion Report - US edition shares insights from 163 US HR leaders to uncover their priorities for the year ahead. To download the US edition, visit here.

About Mercer

Mercer believes in building brighter futures by redefining the world of work, reshaping retirement and investment outcomes, and unlocking real health and well-being. Mercer's more than 25,000 employees are based in 44 countries and the firm operates in over 130 countries. Mercer is a business of Marsh & McLennan (MMC) - Get Report, the world's leading professional services firm in the areas of risk, strategy and people, with 76,000 colleagues and annual revenue of over $17 billion. Through its market-leading businesses including Marsh, Guy Carpenter and Oliver Wyman, Marsh & McLennan helps clients navigate an increasingly dynamic and complex environment. For more information, visit www.mercer.com. Follow Mercer on Twitter @Mercer.

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