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 June 2021 tweet chat, highlighting some of the key themes discussed and insights shared.
What is risk to you? If you’re an insurance broker, maybe it’s flooding. If you’re a coder, maybe it’s hackers. If you’re a child, maybe it’s a board game. But if you’re a business, maybe it’s time to recognize that your biggest risk might come from your people and all the things that could disrupt their ability to work for you.
This new and emerging perspective on business performance and resiliency is born of the pandemic era, and it’s become a top priority for HR, business leaders and board rooms as we move into the future of work. As more employers recognize the impact their people’s wellbeing can have on their business’s bottom line, they’re increasing investments into programs, policies and benefits to offset these people-related risks.
But just as every business and workforce is different, so are the people risks that they may face. From mental health and workforce exhaustion to skills obsolescence and talent recruitment, wrapping one’s head around the breadth and scope of people risks can be difficult. That’s why we asked some of the world’s leading minds on human resources, talent management and organizational transformation to join us in a discussion of how and where employers can offset people risks in their business. The below are highlights and key takeaways from that conversation.
Change breeds instability, and many of the people risks that employers encounter can be traced back to the accelerating pace of digitization and transformation in how business is done. This predates the pandemic, but the necessity of moving online and the transition to the new shape of work has further disrupted the employee-employer dynamic.
Throughout this change, the importance of people has only become clearer. Tamara McCleary rightfully noted that people are an organization’s greatest asset, and Rohan Muralee distilled the concept of “people risks” to its simplest form by pointing out that any force that jeopardizes their health, wellbeing and ability to remain on task is a business risk. When viewed in concert with the challenge to attract and retain talent in today’s employee-advantaged labor market, as Brian Kropp pointed out, the challenge that people risks pose to businesses becomes downright staggering.
“An organization's greatest asset, next to its IP, is its people. Keeping an organization happy and healthy is beneficial in so many ways from increasing efficiency to delivering a better product. In the end though caring about people is just the right thing to do.”
“What’s a company’s biggest, most important asset? PEOPLE. Anything jeopardizing their health and wellbeing is a risk. The pandemic has shown that attracting, retaining and keeping people engaged/productive isn't enough; their safety, protection and health is paramount.”
“It is an employee-advantaged labor market. If we are not treating our employees as people then we will fail to attract/retain the best talent. Biggest risk facing companies.”
To fully understand your people risks, you need to fully understand your people. This means digging into the softer side of human resources and accounting for all the forces that destabilize individuals and put them off task. In many cases employers already account for this with benefits like paid sick leave, healthcare, family leave, and more, but increased competition for talent in the future of work means taking the next step.
In the simplest sense, this means further accounting for people’s needs and wellbeing. In the words of Ryan Patel, employers need to “spend time on providing the best resources that they can to employees” if they want to get the most out of those employees, and after the trials and tribulations of 2020, many organizations are putting that advice into practice. Mental health – previously a niche issue or afterthought – has skyrocketed to the top of the agenda for employers, and many of the tenets of a positive work-life balance that Soumyasanto Sen share are becoming fixtures of the modern employment proposition. By taking a more empathetic, human-centric approach to people management, as Dr. Marcia F. Robinson described, top employers can do away with the workplace traditions that have lived past their utility and put people at the core of what they do.
“Companies and leaders need to be educated and spend time on providing the best resources that they can to the employees and that the work culture allows time for mental wellbeing...Not just about a statement but must prove it to the workplace.”
“Build a good practice of healthy work-life balance:
1. Offer flexible and remote working
2. Encourage breaks
3. Focus on productivity rather than hours
3. Give employees time to volunteer
7. Reconsider time off
8. Increase support for parents”
“Exhaustion is real and employees proved they didn’t need gimmicks to perform. They prefer empathy and understanding that some of our workplace traditions have lived well past their utility. We need to put people at the core as we rethink what workplaces mean.”
Dr. Marcia F. Robinson
Living in our modern world means living in designed experiences. Whether you’re buying a new cell phone or choosing what to watch on TV or ordering a burrito, chances are that a team of designers carefully curated that experience to reduce friction and guide your journey. Needless to say, it’s time for HR to apply that same sensibility to their workforce.
To reduce people risks, organizations should look at all aspects of their employee experience. To start, collect employee feedback and input on where your current pain points lie, as Jola Burnett shared. Doing so will help build trust and help HR identify major areas of risk for both their people and the business. Next, ensure that the workplace isn’t part of the problem by building the positive, engaged corporate culture that Shawn Murphy and Alvin Foo described. The idea here is that your workforce is already subject to so many distractions and disruptions outside of the workplace (health concerns, financial instability, social issues, etc.) that it’s important your environment inside the organization not stack additional instability on top. Lastly, consider how you communicate to your people, as Nick McClelland touched on, because nothing builds risk like uncertainty.
In the end, controlling people risks comes down to crafting the employee experience, and this is why HR has become truly a strategic stakeholder in modern business. They’re not just managing interpersonal conflicts, they’re making sure your business doesn’t fall apart from the inside.
“Building trust by taking employee feedback into consideration, and offering flexibility.”
One way to transform the ee experience is focusing on work engagement — show leaders how to increase work engagement: A positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind that is characterized by vigor, dedication, and absorption.”
“People risk management is a critical need for businesses of all sizes, helping them build and maintain a strong culture, drive employee engagement and performance, and mitigate the numerous people-related compliance risks that exist in every organization.”
“We have to get the balance right in business with managing risk and taking people on the journey to transform the employee experience. Nothing creates more risk and ambiguity for people than poor communication. However, it is woefully under-invested in by many.”