By Kate Bravery and Yvonne Traber, Mercer
The voices of the nearly 11,000 C-suite executives, HR leaders, and employees who contributed to this year’s Global Talent Trends 2022 study paint a clear story: the old model of work, working, and the workplace is gone. The survey, which spanned 16 geographies and 13 industries, reveals an unprecedented opportunity to reimagine how we rebuild our mobility practices and policies in the year ahead.
But what’s also apparent is that organizations need to marry their transformation agenda with an understanding of the employee experience to make sure they build back in a way that is sustainable for their talent.
A voice of optimism prevails, but employees are still feeling pressure
Organizational trust is at an all-time high, with 82% of employees trusting their company to do the right thing for society. Despite the physical distance engendered by the pandemic, people are feeling a stronger sense of commitment to the organization than ever before.
Organizations have learned much about how to listen and empathize and are channeling that knowledge into a new way of partnering we describe as the “relatable organization.” They are communicating clearly what they believe in and conducting a genuine dialogue with their people about the future of work, with one-third of executives committed to building a more human-centric organization. These organizations want to ensure their values permeate through benefit and mobility programs to help inspire the next generation of talent.
Significantly for mobility, 41% of C-suite executives believe the fundamental shift in business requires a reset on work, the workforce, and the workplace, and 29% of executives want to grasp this opportunity to reimagine their international rotations. On the HR side, 84% of senior HR professionals reported the pandemic showed them how hard it was to move talent around and 41% said moving jobs to people was their priority for this year.
Employees, for their part, have enjoyed the ability to work in new ways, with 78% trusting their company to empower them to work with minimal oversight. But this new freedom comes with some costs: 81% said they felt at risk of burnout this year, a rise from 67% in the previous survey.
Five global talent trends shaping the people agenda in 2022
The most successful organizations are creating a more relatable organization by focusing on five areas.
1. Reset for relevance
Organizations are building resilience by leading with values, communicating what they care about, and redesigning so they have enough adaptive capacity to respond. For global mobility, this involves ensuring international assignment programs have a strong focus on environmental, social, and governance issues in both policy and practice.
2. Work in partnership
Organizations also need to create equitable, transparent, and rewarding partnerships to truly understand the new mobility views and offer fully flexible international assignments. Whether this involves hybrid working, gig working, or assignments, many employees are working in new ways, forcing a change in the social contract of work. Partnering across geographic, temporal, and digital boundaries can confer a critical advantage, but it requires management teams to develop a whole new set of competencies.
3. Deliver on total well-being
If we nurture a healthy workforce with benefits that matter, we can help ensure international assignment programs address whole-person needs. Organizations must think holistically about their people on assignment to properly look after their safety, health, and mental well-being.
4. Build for employability
In many respects, organizations are making progress in their race to reskill, yet 98% of HR professionals still report significant gaps. A skills-based organization can help meet future work needs, and organizations can use development assignments to close skills gaps further. Mobility can aid employability by keeping people marketable and organizations talent fueled.
5. Harness collective energy
People are feeling exhausted, depleted, and fatigued, making it critical for us to assume a more human-centric view to unlock their potential. Truly listening to what inspires and engages talent to create a human-centered work environment can help reestablish the vibrant mobility world that existed pre-pandemic.
What people want from work has not changed: how they want to engage with work has
HR has talked for many years about the move from the loyalty (transaction-based) contract to the engagement (work- and workplace-centered) contract. This involved a shift from merely retaining talent to motivating people so they are fully committed to work.
The events of the last two years have created a new employment contract across the board. In the new thrive contract, the focus is on the well-being of the whole person to help them recover. People want purpose, equity, and impact. To achieve this, organizations are striving to strike the right balance between the rise in technology and the need for a human-led approach to rebuild some of the touch points lost. This enables healthy experiences for individuals in exchange for a commitment to organizational renewal.
Moving forward, the survey data, particularly from young talent, indicates a future need to reenergize people by helping them move beyond the restrictions of the last couple of years. This contract focuses on “lifestyle experience” to fulfill the needs for choice, connection, and contribution. It requires a human-centered partnership to help build sustainable systems with total rewards that include flexibility in return for broader choices and the promise of continued relevance.
The survey data shows that, under this lifestyle contract, employees are willing to trade pay rises for benefits including greater experience, greater flexibility, and greater mobility, making delivering on these expectations one of the biggest challenges organizations will face this year.
For global mobility, notwithstanding a 21 percentage point increase in policy flexibility since 2019, 47% of companies say that lack of technology infrastructure to support flexible packages for their international assignees is a key challenge for them, according to Mercer’s 2022 Flexible International Mobility Policies Survey.
Employees want their company to partner with them to craft meaningful work experiences
Looking at what employees want from the work experience and where mobility fits in, the data reveals a new confidence in employees’ skills. 37% believe their skills could make them suitable for a role in another part of the organization. This may be because the proliferation of artificial intelligence, talent intelligence platforms, and talent marketplaces has encouraged them to think more broadly about how they can apply their capabilities in different ways.
Employees are looking for ways to contribute to work outside of traditional approaches, whether through a “workation” – working in a holiday home or different city – under consideration by 34% of employees, or an international assignment, which 26% believe has historically helped people advance in their company. The pandemic, which has made 33% of employees apprehensive about business travel, is still weighing on their minds, but individuals are thinking differently about how they can mine their own talent to tap into future opportunities and meet their needs.
|I believe my skills could make me suitable for a role in
another part of the organization
|I would consider a short "workation" - working out of a holiday villa or new city
|I am apprehensive about business travel because of the pandemic
|I am worried I won't have access to talent mobility
programs given the pandemic
|I would not consider an overseas assignment for the
|I am keen to work in areas outside my
|Historically, taking an international assignment helps
|Moving to another business unit or market is pretty
tough in my organization
|None of the above
Case study: Professional services firm
A professional services firm needed to meet new expectations from talent at a price point that was sustainable for the organization. With a complex mobility environment comprising many mobile employees of different ages and profiles, a one-size-fits-all approach was not appropriate.
The firm needed to balance employees’ need for more-flexible working arrangements and a better experience with the business’s need for more-flexible reward and mobility packages that would attract the right talent and match roles with different employees.
The firm took three steps to meet these needs:
- Setting up a flexible international assignment program with different levels of flexibility according to assignment purpose
- Identifying core and flexible elements and related conditions
- Investing in a technology solution that serves HR, managers, and assignees, allowing them to choose the flexible elements desired
By adopting this approach, the firm was able to offer the required flexibility and enhance the experience of employees while meeting business needs and reducing costs for the organization.
This experience illustrates how listening to employees’ needs and individualizing the proposition can help meet employees on their terms while also satisfying the enterprise’s needs.
Organizations and employees need to bridge the skills gap to build capability and prosperity for all
This year’s survey reveals a huge opportunity for the mobility function to be active partner in the skills agenda. While 91% of employees reported they have recently tried to learn a new skill, 98% of HR say their company has significant skill gaps.
So, it’s no surprise that the top agenda item for executives in 2022 is reskilling, followed by designing talent processes around skills. Organizations have to ensure reskilling permeates every HR activity and to consider how they can use mobility to help bridge this gap.
Interestingly, the data shows that insurance and manufacturing industries, perhaps because of their global footprints, are ahead of the game in promoting this skills-based talent mobility.
COVID-19 disruptions have caused changes to talent mobility programs as organizations build for employability
Build for employability
From the employer's point of view, 80% of executives say the pandemic revealed challenges in moving talent around the organization.
Changes to talent mobility program following COVID
|Increasing “work from anywhere” offerings
|Focusing on the well
being of those on assignment
based talent mobility
|Bringing jobs to people (identifying jobs that could be done from
|Investing in mobility technology solutions
|Embedding diversity and inclusion goals into mobility programs
|Opening up jobs and/or assignments to a broader group of
|Focusing on expat program cost management
imagining international rotations
Some of the lessons learned have not fed back into the core HR organization, and there is a realization that the mobility function is at the forefront in getting certain things right. For example, 29% of executives are reimagining international rotations and working to ensure assignees come back at a level that stretches them and inspires them to stay – something mobility has long advocated for. And the fact that well-being is a focus for 42% of executives is again no surprise for those in the mobility function.
An equal percentage are looking at promoting skills-based talent mobility to help meet skills gaps, with 41% looking at identifying jobs that could be done from new locations as well as at investing in mobility technology solutions.
Employers are clearly responding to what employees are asking for, with 46% increasing work-from-anywhere offerings. And 41% are embedding diversity and inclusion (D&I) goals in mobility programs, reflecting the reset for relevance trend, with a similar percentage trying to open up jobs and assignments to a broader group of internal applicants.
Companies are increasingly using alternative means to close the skills gap and incentivize employability
Source: Mercer 2021 Skills-based Pay Survey
In 2020, the preferred method for closing the skills gap was buying skills. In 2022, it is targeting learning. This switch to focusing on internal employees and building their skills to become the talent of the future is an exciting opportunity for the mobility function.
If organizations want to encourage skills-based talent management, they need to ensure people see a return for their effort. But this year’s data shows people are a little jaded about development opportunities. To counter this, organizations need to understand the skills they are trying to build on assignment and how to reward them. They also need to measure them and to keep pace with the somewhat volatile external pay expectations of past years.
Virtual assignments were commonly used when mobility was put on hold due to the pandemic. However, these may be regarded as less rewarding than traditional assignments, sometimes causing individuals to question whether an assignment will lead to a promotion or pay rise.
Case study: manufacturing company
A manufacturing company was using mobility in a reactive manner, moving people to fix a business issue and plug a skills gap rather than using assignments in a proactive way to expand their mobile talent pool. As a result, it experienced difficulties in finding skilled candidates. When employees were moved merely as a quick fix to a problem, the individuals did not recognize the related growth potential of the assignment in their career path. They were also concerned about finding a suitable position when the assignment was complete. And sending the same people overseas to resolve issues was leading to rising costs for the organization.
The company took a three-pronged approach, deciding to:
- Evolve the focus to promote skills-based mobility – it shifted the focus to being more proactive and looking at where skill gaps exist and what skills the business needs in the future
- Upskill the workforce by developing international assignments – once it identified the skills needed, it promoted the area of mobility, making clear that assignments benefit the whole organization
- Build the talent pool – the company recognized that a global talent pool helps it manage succession planning, meet global challenges, provide a better employee experience, and retain talent because of the perceived value of international exposure
This company’s experience shows that organizations cannot use mobility assignments merely to respond to business challenges while tapping into the same pool of people. In building for employability, what makes a difference is targeting learning to critical talent populations. To make progress on this agenda, organizations need to be intentional and strategic and to provide opportunities for all, especially if they have a D&I agenda. They need to build back for employability in a way that is relevant for diverse groups.
Relatable organizations have two ears, one mouth, and many hands
This year’s Global Talent Trends study emphasized the importance of reimagining how we partner flexibly with future talent while building for employability in mobility assignments. Organizations need to couple employees’ increased interest in experience and movement with an upskilling agenda that keeps people employable now and in the future.
To achieve this, they should:
- Ensure their mobility program is attractive to the talent populations they want to grow
Help people make intentional choices in line with the lifestyle contract and flexibility needs
Equip managers to ensure all talent has access to mobility-driven development experiences
Organizations are listening to employees like never before, and this is an exciting time for mobility. The 2022 survey points to many positive trends that will fuel mobility practices and enable them to add value for many years to come.
To uncover how organizations are taking advantage of the opportunity to redesign work, working and the workplace, Mercer has launched the 2023 Global Talent Trends survey edition.