Each month, Mercer brings together in-house experts, employee advocates and external thought leaders for an online discussion of the most pressing issues. The program is called #MercerChats and takes place entirely on Twitter, where individuals around the world engage with Mercer’s intellectual capital and other leading thought leadership to share insights and discuss the best solutions to help organizations thrive. Below is a summary of our January 2020 tweet chat, highlighting some of the key themes discussed and insights shared.

If we’ve learned anything from the past year, it’s that things can change in a flash. Everyday occurrences like getting lunch with friends became pipe dreams, and the inconceivable (i.e. not leaving your apartment for months) became commonplace. In this new environment, even the most agile businesses had trouble keeping pace, and the challenge to stay relevant was as difficult as ever.

 

As if that wasn’t hard enough, employers faced the added challenge of maintaining their workforce throughout the change. 2020 was a crucible of societal change, workflow disruption and the complete reevaluation of the institutions that surround us, and many employers are right to ask how they can build an organization and workforce that is relevant not just for the present moment, but for the future of work ahead.

 

To tap into this uncertainty and mine for the best solutions to the challenges ahead, we invited some of the world’s leading minds and thought leaders to our #MercerChats tweet chat. We discussed how employers can confront the need for greater diversity and build a modern and future-ready organization that embraces the cutting edge in human resources and workforce management. Below is a collection of the key themes and trends that emerged from the event. 

Businesses are human. So how about a little humanity?

From the start of the pandemic, wellbeing has been a central topic of conversation, both at home and in the workplace. The financial, social, and mental and physical health impacts of 12+ months of social distancing have been felt around the world, and employers have had to adapt to the new and novel priorities that arise. These range from growing social impact awareness, as Rachel Miller noted, to an overdue reckoning with value and fragility of mental health, which both Brian Moran and Bryan Kramer rightfully pointed out as a new top priority for employers, but by and large what we’ve seen is a shift towards empathy.

 

I can’t speak for the rest of you, but this is long overdue. If companies want to retain their human workforce, humanity must be at the core of their culture. Like most things, this starts at the top, and Walter Jennings pointed out this means with leadership. Whether it’s adopting ESG principles that demonstrate a stronger commitment to their communities or more flexibility for employees, leaders are in a powerful position to positively impact their communities. Doing so not only has the benefit of, you know, having a positive impact in their communities; it shows current and prospective talent that, as Mark Babbitt put it, they care as much about people as they care about their results. There couldn’t be a more effective way for employers to invest in their future, because when they show that they’ll take care of their people, their people will take care of them.

Gender Equality, Now and Forever

It’s been widely reported that women have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Nearly all of the US job losses from December 2020 were held by women, and as social support networks around the world shut down due to quarantine, the responsibilities for home, child and elderly care largely fell to women. In what should be no surprise, this has presented a considerable obstacle in women’s careers, and Stela Lupushor noted that it has caused many to either reduce hours or leave the workforce altogether. As we recognize International Women’s Day 2021, each of us can play an active role in taking action against gender bias and towards greater inclusion in the workplace, and society. 

 

And if employers are looking to stay relevant in the future of work – to say nothing of inclusive – the last thing they can afford is to watch this talent walk out the door. Keeping these women in the workforce is absolutely vital, and they must act now if they want to retain them for the future. Doing so requires action on multiple fronts, and our chat participants weren’t short on suggestions for where to start:

 

  • Benefit Design: Do your employee benefits reflect your workforce, and how do your policies impact your people? Amy Laverock noted that it’s time to stop designing benefits for a single archetype in your organization and begin building for your whole workforce.
  • Communications: What are you really saying when you talk to your employees? From the framing of policies to the areas of focus in internal messaging, Robin Schooling reminded us of how important it is to review language for bias.
  • Operational Redesign: Who can really work for you? Many employers may see themselves as an equal opportunity workplace, but if policies aren’t suitably flexible for the modern era, Tamara McCleary pointed out that employers may not be accounting for women.

But fundamentally, it always come back to humanity. Angela Maiers may have put it best when she implored employers to simply be understanding. The world has changed overnight, and those who embrace it soonest will be the first to find success. 

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

At its core, this is all about people – supporting them, retaining them, and nurturing them. But 2020 has shown us that there’s more to support than salary and benefits. Representation, opportunity, and equality have become central issues, especially as more employees look to their company’s leadership to demonstrate their commitment to those principles. Viewed through this lens, the theme for International Women’s Day resonates deeply. I do #ChooseToChallenge – we all should – and it’s only by calling out gender bias and inequality and focusing on elevating women’s achievements that we all can help to create a truly inclusive world.

 

Luckily, most organizations’ own incentives are aligned with advancing diversity, equity and inclusion within their own workplace. As Jill Zimmerman noted, diverse teams have been proven to outperform homogenous ones, and top talent is increasingly seeking out employers that allow them to self-express in the workplace. “Fairness and inclusion in a workplace creates confidence and pride,” as S. Chris Edmonds shared, and smart employers will ride that wave of confidence and pride into a successful workforce management program in the future of work.

 

To build this inclusive environment, employers must start with trust. Helen Yu shared as much during our conversation, and Carrie Maslen went further by identifying how to build it: listening, learning and commitment. This type of empathetic leadership has proven vital in managing the pandemic and societal change of 2020, and it’ll only become more indispensable as we move forward. But this means more than lip service, as Janet Fouts observed, it takes a full and staying commitment to DEI principles. In today’s talent landscape, employees can absolutely tell the difference, and we can only benefit from one another’s strengths and perspective when we all feel comfortable sharing them. 

These thought leaders have shared their voices to create a better, more equal world. What actions will you take to show your support and call out inequality?

Danielle Guzman
Danielle Guzman

Global Head of Social Media