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The adaptability challenge – why temporary talent shares can help

building a better employee experience

Where do you find 30,000 workers at the drop of a hat? That was the challenge faced by one American grocery company as store traffic soared due to the COVID-19 emergency. The solution? To tap the hospitality sector, whose workers faced a potentially devastating loss of income caused by what the IMF calls the Great Lockdown. For the grocer, it was a chance to fill a critical business need temporarily while taking care of people who needed to continue working. The company fully expects people will return to their previous jobs when the crisis ends. International Workers’ Day, observed on May 1, marks the occasion and opportunity to celebrate examples of companies pulling together to help their people get through the crisis.

The American grocer is not an isolated example — CHROs tell us they worry about managing furloughs and their extension, and balancing business demand with employee expectations and responsibilities. Crucially, they want alternative options. Nearly nine in ten companies have closed offices, factories and/or retail outlets. As a result, there have been several examples of ad hoc employee-sharing deals, a hastily put together solution to pandemic-induced staffing challenges. As economies look likely to oscillate between reopenings and resurgent full or partial lockdowns, we can expect such talent brokering to continue. 

Temporary talent shares are a welcome development and — if designed elegantly — will outlive the virus. According to Mercer’s 2020 Global Talent Trends research, only 45% of executives believe their workforce can adapt to the new world of work. But with the future of work on our doorstep, and as COVID-19 shakes up jobs and the economy, we need to move the needle faster on adaptability. A few years ago, Mercer worked on building a talent consortium to upend traditional thinking about who owns talent and what a career path looks like. At the time, uptake was limited due to varying confidence in the power of companies’ EVP and career tracks, stagnant views on upskilling and practical challenges like the impact on employee benefits. Times have now changed.

Meet your match

New alliances are springing up around the world, and many firms are using Mercer as a broker to find a partner. But, just like the dating world, talent matching needs more partners and speed in pairing up. Expanding the pool is welcome, if we are to have a positive impact together in a short space of time. On this note, we see our partnership with Accenture as a massive accelerator. Their free B2B platform helps companies with underutilized workforces meet organizations requiring additional people at this time. With over 800 companies already signed up, People+Work Connect is a great first step in finding out if talent sharing in your community is an option for your business today.

Accelerate adaptability

Mercer’s Temporary Talent Sharing framework can help companies positively impact local communities by addressing labor supply/demand imbalances, as well as deal with urgent workforce challenges and labor cost issues. It provides opportunities for people to stay engaged and occupied during this time and to remain employed or earn an income when on furlough.

Beyond the immediate requirement to respond to COVID-19, talent sharing also supports adaptability. Employees can gain experiences that support their future market value, and lending employers will rebound with a reenergized workforce that has learned new skills in a new environment. Meanwhile, the employer acquiring talent can adjust supply as needed while engaging in longer-term strategic workforce planning. Post-pandemic, there is an opportunity to use the platform for short-term secondments in an organization’s supply chain with customers.

Solve for people problems: Human-led, digitally enabled

Talent sharing is one of many innovative solutions springing up, as companies get creative around alternative approaches to layoffs and furloughs. Yet it’s often the practical challenges such as staff utilization, payment transfers, benefits and pensions administration, and data privacy (such as GDPR) that can be a headache. We know, for example, that a three-month talent loan between a fast food outlet and a retailer in Europe relied on Excel spreadsheets, limiting the speed and scale with which employees could be loaned. And although they contacted 200 regional restaurant managers (responsible for more than 1,000 outlets) about the talent share scheme, more individuals could have participated with better employee communications that outlined why it was being proposed and how to access jobs quickly.

Talent sharing is first and foremost about people. To ensure all parties benefit, companies need to engage and inspire their people to turn any scheme into a positive opportunity. It requires consideration of strategic people issues such as talent strategy, EVP, people risk, communication and engagement. Talent sharing also needs to be enabled in a way that protects the loaning and receiving companies’ value proposition and makes execution simple. Some of the questions we’re helping companies consider include:

  • What type of employer makes a good “match,” and how can we get talent sharing to happen quickly?
  • What people, financial, contractual and operational considerations should I think about — for example, how do benefits from one company and rewards from another work? What about safety concerns? Employee vetting? How can I stay connected to my people when offsite?
  • What are the risks involved, and how do I mitigate them? How do we plan for the return?
  • How do I communicate this opportunity in a way that shares our values?

Temporary talent sharing: Another way to win with empathy

Sharing talent is one of the quickest ways companies can be socially responsible, help businesses and support individuals during this period of turmoil. Technology that matches spare capacity with critical workforce gaps is an excellent accelerator. Still, tailored people solutions, practical advice and active support will help companies go from “we need new thinking” to pragmatic solution deployment in a matter of weeks. The need for an adaptable workforce is here to stay. Talent sharing is one way that companies are gearing up to meet the unprecedented challenges we face now and beyond the pandemic.

Kate Bravery
by Kate Bravery

Global Advisory Solutions & Insights Leader at Mercer