In an age where digitisation, robotics, and AI are wreaking havoc with traditional business models, it is easy for executives to focus on superior technology as the solution to ensuring the competitiveness of their organizations and to overlook the human element.

“Growth rests on engaging and empowering today’s workforce in ways that we are just beginning to uncover. It takes employees armed with the right skills and opportunities to develop innovative solutions to advance the business and themselves,” said Ilya Bonic, President of Mercer’s Career business.

Mercer’s study shares insights from over 7,500 perspectives globally, 462 of these in South Africa, and compares the views of senior business executives, HR leaders, and employees from organizations around the world. The report assesses significant gaps in alignment, identifies several critical disconnects concerning change, and makes recommendations to capture growth.

Most notably, despite organizations’ plans to transform, HR leaders do not have organization or job redesign on their list of priorities for 2017. In fact, the top priorities of HR leaders – specifically developing leaders for succession, optimizing performance management, supporting employees’ career growth and attracting top talent externally – reflect the priority of evolving employee capabilities, but may not align with executive’s goals for more substantial workplace change.

Additionally, while HR leaders express confidence in the talent management processes they have in place (68%), employees are still looking elsewhere for new opportunities. Slightly more than one-third (37%) of employees say they plan to leave their current role in the next 12 months, even though they are satisfied in their jobs. Equally concerning is that those employees not planning to leave their current roles report they are less “energized” in terms of bringing their authentic selves to work and therefore, less likely to thrive in a collaborative and innovative workplace.

Moreover, business executives view talent scarcity more acutely than HR professionals; with all executives surveyed (100%) expecting a significant increase in competition compared to just one in 5 HR professionals.

“Organizations need to prioritize a culture of agility to stay ahead of rapidly changing market trends,” said Kate Bravery, Global Leader for Mercer’s Career business.

“Those employers that empower their workforce – by helping them plan for the unknown, mitigate risk, and thrive at work – will be more successful in building a responsive and successful organization.”

What is not on the HR agenda for 2017 demonstrates misalignment and perhaps missed opportunities to leverage what employees report as important:

Health over Wealth – Despite nearly half (45%) of employees in South Africa ranking their health as more important than their wealth or career, and 47% indicating they expect their workplace to become more focused on employee health in the next few years, health and wellbeing still ranked in the bottom half on HR leaders’ list of top talent management priorities this year.

“Navigating the changing talent ecosystem by redesigning future roles and supporting employees’ health and wealth needs is already becoming a market differentiator,” said Mr. Bonic.

Wealth over Career

The majority (97%) of employees reported that they want to be recognized and rewarded for contributions beyond the organization’s financial results and activity metrics. Although less than one half (43%) of employees think their company does this well, fair and competitive compensation still ranked in the top three when asked what would make a positive impact on their work situation. Yet rewards ranked in the lower half of priorities for HR leaders.

Gig Is Big

Flexible work arrangements are important to employees, with around half reporting that both their direct manager and company leaders are supportive of it (52% and 50%, respectively). Nevertheless, 52% of employees believe working remotely or part-time can adversely impact promotional opportunities.

And while almost three-quarters (74%) of full-time employees would consider working on a contingent or contract basis, neither business executives nor HR leaders have embraced these new forms of employment as much as expected or desired.

Both the C-suite and HR leaders agree that they do not expect the “gig economy” to have a major impact on their business in the next two years. “It’s a risk for any organization to ignore opportunities for people to work more independently,” said Ms. Bravery.

“Those companies that find ways to leverage a more fluid workforce will harness growth and outpace the competition.”

A Relevant Experience

Beyond flexibility, personalisation is essential for creating an experience that resonates with employees.

Less than half (41%) of employees say that their company understands their unique interests and skills, while 73% want their company to increase this understanding and help them invest in themselves.

“Employees are increasingly bringing a consumer expectation to the workplace since it is how they engage in almost every aspect of their lives,” said Ms. Bravery.

“It creates an authentic environment in which employees can excel. When done right, it does not feel like personalisation – it just feels like a great experience.”

Digital Divide

Aspects of technology also show HR is lagging expectations of both executive leadership and employees.

Business executives (60%) believe technology at work, including automation, robotics, machine learning, and wearables, is the workforce trend likely to have the most impact on their organizations in the next two years.

Yet, less than half (42%) of HR professionals agree. For employees, it is even more basic:  one in four organizations surveyed in South Africa say they do not provide a digital experience for employees when interacting with HR.

“Despite the desire to cling to more traditional methods, the landscape for the workplace, the workforce, and the future of work are changing too quickly and drastically to do so,” said Ms. Bravery.

“To stay competitive, it is imperative that business executives and HR leaders collaborate and that organizations take new approaches to how employees access knowledge, adapt to technology, manage, communicate, and leverage their careers.”

Mercer’s 2017 Global Talent Trends Study, which examines the top trends impacting today’s workforce and how organisations are responding, uncovered four trends that are shaping the outlook for this year: Growth by design: The C-suite’s change agenda to drive growth, The quest for insight: Analytics will be a key player in winning the war for talent, A shift in what we value: Recognizing what matters most to employees, and A workplace for me: Continued focus on personalisation and flexibility.

The study is based on the input of more than 1,700 HR professionals, 5,400 employees, and 400 business executives from 15 countries and 20 industry sectors.

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