UK employees searching for clear leadership in the workplace

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The FINANCIAL — As the instability in the UK political landscape continues, employees are looking for clear leadership to set the direction for an uncertain future, says Mercer.

Its latest 2017 Global Talent Trends Study, reveals that when asked what aspect would most help improve their work situation, close to half (46%) of UK employees want  leaders who set clear direction. Similarly, when asked to list their main priorities for the year, HR professionals rank developing leaders for succession highest (47%). Other top priorities for HR leaders in the UK broadly match those of their global counterparts, including: attracting top talent externally, supporting employees’ career growth, and identifying high potential employees. 

“Faced with the ever-increasing rate of change in business, disruption in how work is done, allied to the political and financial instability, companies need strong and clear leadership to navigate the uncertainty ahead, ” said Mark Quinn, Mercer’s UK Career Leader.  “Companies that get on the front foot developing effective and supportive leaders have an unprecedented opportunity to get ahead of their competition.”

Mercer’s study shares insights from over 7,500 perspectives globally, of which over 550 are from the UK, and compares the views of senior business executives, HR leaders, and employees. Notably, when asked what external challenges will have the biggest impact on their business 34% of UK executives stated increased border control (compared to 20% of executives globally). However, only 11% of UK executives see an ageing workforce as a key workforce challenge, compared to 37% globally.

“Although clearly aware of the negative impact Brexit is likely to have on talent availability, UK executives do not seem to realise how this will amplify the ageing workforce crisis,” said Mr Quinn. “The demographic time bomb has already gone off as our recent Mercer workforce monitor research* shows; the combination of a rapidly ageing workforce and potential restrictions on migration is sending the UK towards an unprecedented labour shortage. Companies need to look intelligently at their workforce data to understand the potential impact and plan their workforce strategy.” 

Looking to the future, more UK employees (43%) expect their work situation to become more stressful than the global average indicates (23%). The key workplace expectation from employees globally was more team based work (40%), whereas considerably fewer UK employees (21%) had this expectation.

In line with the global trend, the majority of UK companies (89%) report they are planning to redesign their structure in the next two years, yet only 6% of UK business executives say their organisation is “change agile”.

“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 organisations and to overlook the human element,” said Ilya Bonic, President of Mercer’s Career business. “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.”

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 59% of employees ranking their health as more important than their wealth or career, and 26% indicating they expect their workplace to become more focused on employee health in the next few years, health and wellbeing still ranked amongst the bottom 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.

Pay over Development – While the majority (96%) of employees reported that they want to be recognized and rewarded for contributions beyond the organization’s financial results and activity metrics, just more than one third  (37%) think their company does this well. Furthermore, fair and competitive compensation ranked in the top 3 when asked what would make a positive impact on their work situation, yet rewards did not rank highly on the priorities for HR leaders.

Gig Is Big – Flexible work arrangements are important to employees, with more than half reporting that both their direct manager and company leaders are supportive of it (55% and 51%, respectively). Nevertheless, 51% of employees believe working remotely or part-time can adversely impact promotional opportunities. And while nearly three-quarters (72%) 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 Kate Bravery, Global Practices Leader for Mercer’s Career business. “Those companies that find ways to leverage a more fluid workforce will harness growth and outpace the competition.”

A Relevant Experience – Beyond flexibility, personalization is essential for creating an experience that resonates with employees. Only 1 in 3 (35%) of employees say that their company understands their unique interests and skills – and employees in Europe were the least likely by region to agree with this – while 55% 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 personalization – 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 (71%) 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 (44%) of HR professionals agree. For employees, it is even more basic:  just one in 3 organizations surveyed in the UK (30%) said that employees could do more than core HR tasks digitally (book time-off etc.). 

“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 personalization and flexibility. The study is based on the input of more than 1,700 HR professionals (over 120 in UK), 5,400 employees (nearly 400 in UK), and 400 business executives (over 30 in UK) from 15 countries and 20 industry sectors.


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