How planning and purpose can win the war for talent 

Find out how businesses can rethink talent management and skills needs to become employers of choice

Changing skills profiles, a shrinking UK workforce and business transformation are all intensifying the war for talent.

As corporates strive to become more resilient in turbulent markets the way that they attract, engage, develop and retain top talent is crucial to future business success.

In parallel, Covid-19 has made many employees reconsider their employment expectations and relationship with work. They are less willing to remain in roles that offer limited career progression, or to tolerate poor workplace behaviours, and in a competitive talent market are able to decide how, when – and who - they work for.

With both employee and corporate values undergoing such significant shifts, there are five key areas of focus for HR, that will position organisations for success in the war for talent.

  • discover the drivers of employee engagement
  • plan for future skills needs
  • build an inclusive workplace
  • create continuous learning opportunities
  • rethink reward and benefits

Talent management in the spotlight

We can look at those five areas of focus in more depth:
  • Discover the drivers of employee engagement 

    Covid-19 and the cost of living crisis have affected people’s morale, wellbeing and their engagement with work. It has made many employees re-evaluate their priorities, such as flexible working, and organisations are having to rethink employee engagement as a result.

    Building a positive culture that connects, or reconnects, employees with their work environment will retain talent and attract the future workforce.

  • Plan for future skills needs

    The unexpected shocks of Covid-19, together with long-term trends such as digitalisation, have shaken up critical skills sets. It has also shown just how quickly knowledge needs can change in a world of ongoing disruption.

    By understanding how business needs will evolve, employers can predict the skills they will need to make change happen. Organisations can then proactively reskill and upskill employees, rather than reactively relying on external recruitment to fill skills gaps.

  • Build an inclusive workplace
    Creating an inclusive workplace is a vital part of the war for talent, ensuring that organisations recruit the best skills and experience regardless of characteristics and circumstances. By supporting different employee groups, such as parents and carers, employers can retain skills and experience, build compelling career paths for everyone in the organisation.
  • Continuous learning opportunities and career pathways

    Employees who thrive are likely to work in cultures that are supportive of mid-career moves, and be exposed to an ongoing culture of learning and growth.

    That also means equipping line managers to support and enable continuous learning, ensuring everyone has equal access to learning and development, and rethinking career structures for a more agile skills-focused future.

  • Rethink reward and benefits
    Employee benefits are part of the culture of business and deliver a valuable edge in the talent war. From pension contributions to the principles of saying thank-you for a job well done, they are a powerful signal that a company thinks about the person, not just the payslip, and wants to help employees thrive for the future.
As corporates strive to become more resilient in turbulent markets the way that they attract, engage, develop and retain top talent is crucial to future business success.
Kerry Ghize

UK Career Leader, Mercer

The what and how of winning the war for talent

Explore nine key actions that organisations need to take for future talent planning.  Mercer’s extensive consultant expertise, market data and benchmarking capabilities means that we can support you in building an action plan to attract and retain an agile, resilient workforce.
  • Listen to employees

    What? By listening to their people, businesses can understand what motivates current talent and identify ways to improve culture, benefits and career opportunities to retain them.

    How? Pulse surveys, employee networks, face-to-face conversations and line manager feedback can all help to build a picture of employee engagement and feed into future strategy.

  • Re-evaluate the Employee Value Proposition (EVP)

    What? Traditionally, organisations have taken a one-size-fits all approach to their EVP. As organisations build better data about the range of needs and priorities in their workforce, it will become clear that a catch-all EVP will no longer work.

    How: Reviewing the EVP and exploring ways to make it more personalised will help to attract new, diverse talent and create a more inclusive environment.

  • Understand the potential of your workforce

    What? Employees often have a wealth of skills beyond their current roles and an appetite to develop new expertise. Forward-thinking employers recognise the vast potential already present in their workforce and how to harness it for future growth.

    How? Take a data-driven approach to understand the potential of your employees, how this matches future needs and identify ways to reskill and upskill employees to further develop their talent.

  • Create new approaches to recruitment

    What? Even organisations with strong internal skills development will sometimes need to recruit externally. New skills and talent needs may also mean changing recruitment methods.

    How? Explore ways to take advantage of regional areas of excellence, both locally and globally, as well as reviewing the inclusivity of your recruitment strategies.

  • Transition from jobs to skills

    What? As organisations become more agile, internal talent marketplaces and career development based on skills rather than job roles will become higher priority.

    How? Rethink job architectures and structures to focus on units of skills and breaking down traditional inflexible structures. Be transparent about what skills employees will need for the future and empower them to develop those skills so that they can approach the future with confidence.

  • Evolve flexible working

    What? Covid-19 forced remote and flexible working on employees and employers alike. In some organisations, that accelerated existing trends; for others it demanded an immediate change of systems, job design and management styles which must now be readdressed to form a permanent part of the EVP.

    How? Employers must evolve their approach to flexible working as part of their EVP and to attract a wide and inclusive talent base. Creating more flexible approaches to retirement, such as part-time working, will also help to retain experienced practitioners and attract older workers.

  • Create a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace

    What? Pay, recruitment and opportunity gaps can all impact people retention, company reputation and future talent attraction.

    How? Collate and analyse workforce data to prioritise and address gaps linked to characteristics such as gender or ethnicity, or the impact of being a parent and carer.

  • Build an authentic culture

    What? Creating a strong corporate brand is an important part of attracting potential employees – but only if it is authentic. A mismatch between an employer’s messaging and the actual experience of working for an organisation causes reputational damage and can impact future talent attraction.

    How? Encourage transparency, share experiences and listen to employees, to understand how to continue to evolve a positive culture. Managers that create trust, psychological safety and encourage the careers and skills growth of their workforce have a vital role to play in retaining talent.

  • Identify and communicate high impact employee benefits

    What? Offering employee benefits that are relevant to the workforce and flexible enough to meet different needs are a differentiator in the war for talent. And, it’s important to communicate benefits effectively to help people understand the full value of their offering, including learning opportunities.

    How? Mercer’s wealth of data can help you to benchmark your organisation’s benefits offering both within your own sector and against others wanting to attract the same skills. We can help you to present benefits clearly and in ways that maximise their value for employees to help retain talent.

2 in 5

2 in 5 HR directors don’t know what skills they have in their workforce


In the UK are satisfied with their organisation’s policies and support systems to enable remote, hybrid or other flexible ways of working.

(source: Mercer People Risk survey 2022)

Kerry Ghize

- Partner, UK Career Leader, Mercer

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