People first: Mercer’s 2018 Global Talent Trends Study


It’s no longer far-fetched to imagine people using implanted microchips as their metro pass. If this is how people choose to live, how will they want to work? The late Stephen Hawking said: “Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change,” and this focus on human adaptability certainly weaves through Mercer’s 2018 Global Talent Trends Study Unlocking Growth in the Human Age.

What struck me this year is that people feel apprehensive and excited in equal measure about technology’s heady mix of challenges and possibilities. After years of fretting about disruption, there is a readiness to take action as we reimagine a new future.

This year, the findings reveal organizations poised for action that puts people first, taking advantage of human resilience, empathy, creativity, and our strategic thinking. In pursuit of new technologies, it has become easy to lose sight of how people connect and collaborate, how teams co-create, and what motivates different segments of the workforce. To drive change, employers are focused on human skills such as innovation, a global mindset, and complex problem solving that are highly sought-after this year. Indeed, 94% of companies have innovation on their core agenda and are looking towards their people to drive this.

This new focus is exciting for HR because it requires, and benefits from, unprecedented collaboration between HR and the business. And it’s good news for individuals, too, who crave involvement in innovation and seek jobs that unlock a sense of purpose.

From the 7,600+ voices that make up this year’s report (Board Directors, Executives, HR leaders and employees) we identified five trends shaping the workforce in 2018:

  • CHANGE@SPEED: The C-suite believes we are entering a state of permanent transformation – of structures, cultures and people that have regeneration in their DNA. The ability to change, and change at speed, is emerging as a core competency itself. Change agility requires a quickened pace of learning and giving more power to individuals. The challenge is balancing empowerment and governance, and efficiency versus reskilling for tomorrow. Half of executives predict at least one in five roles in their organization will cease to exist by 2022, but HR reports mixed confidence in being able to identify jobs that will be displaced and how to effectively and proactively reskill employees.
  • WORKING WITH PURPOSE: Employees crave meaningful work: 75% of thriving employees – those who are fulfilled personally and professionally – say that they work for a company with a strong sense of purpose (almost double those who don’t feel like they are thriving). Yet firms are out of sync, with only 13% of organizations differentiating their EVP with a purpose-driven mission today.
  • PERMANENT FLEXIBILITY: The quest for flexibility is even more pronounced in 2018: most employees want their company to offer more flexible work options than they do today. The good news is over 80% of executives view it as a core part of their company’s value proposition (up significantly from 49% last year). The bad news is that organizations are still grappling with how to apply flexible working fairly, with just 3% reporting that they are industry leaders in this area. This year the focus needs to be on evaluating each role for its flexibility quotient and enabling people to design work arrangements that put them in life’s driving seat.
  • PLATFORM FOR TALENT: All of us in HR are feeling the pressure to build the workforce for the future at the speed that matches executives’ appetite for growth. The answer comes in moving away from our traditional HR models and embracing a platform approach that matches skill supply with work demand through enhanced data and analytics. With two in five companies planning to “borrow” more talent in the next 12 months this moves us in the right direction. And this mandate is coming from the top with executives anticipating the greatest ROI this year from talent investment will be speeding up the movement of jobs to people and people to jobs. 
  • DIGITAL FROM THE INSIDE OUT: Companies continue to lag on delivering a consumer-grade experience for employees. Only 15% of C-suite executives describe their company as a digital organization today. Those that are digital report a stronger ability to change and more involvement from HR in managing talent. This year enhancements to performance management and learning systems are in focus, but greater value might be unlocked by doubling efforts around analytics and how to enable remote working and virtual collaboration.

As I’ve been sharing this year’s trends with clients and colleagues, it’s clear that one of the biggest challenges is how to bring people along on the transformation journey – a top ask from employees this year was for leaders who set a clear direction. As companies reimagine the future of work, they must bring an understanding of how the workforce is changing and be careful not to neglect the human operating system that powers their organizations. Only when we are living digitally, working flexibly and being rewarded uniquely can we truly build a workforce for the future.

Kate Bravery
by Kate Bravery

Global Advisory Solutions & Insights Leader at Mercer