South African companies realise that the post Covid-19 period requires new thinking on talent and skills retention, embracing technology, incorporating sustainability in business models, and investing more in employee well-being, benefits and engagement.

These are among the findings from the South African edition of Mercer’s Global Talent Trends 2020-2021 report released today.

While these trends emerged in 2020 as companies grappled with the pandemic, they have not only grown in relevance, but critically are going to shape the future of businesses who act now.

The four trends that South Africa companies should adopt are embracing a new multi-stakeholder model that encompasses transparency and empathy; reskilling to transform the workforce for a new world economy; harnessing the power of data and redesigning the work experience to inspire and invigorate employees.

According to the report, 75% of HR leaders in South Africa who participated in the survey expected Covid-19 to negatively affect their businesses. Defining future workforce needs and sustainably restructuring and reinventing should be top priorities for 2021, if companies and organisations are to navigate through the economic crisis sustainably and cost-effectively.

Tamara Parker, CEO of Mercer in South Africa, says there is no doubt that the pandemic has upended businesses, which have had to rethink working and close offices during the lockdowns.

“However it affected people, the pandemic has opened people’s eyes to new opportunities, including the way that skills-based talent models can deliver business benefit.”

We enter 2021 with a fundamentally altered view of work and society, Parker adds. “Companies are listening to people and have to be more responsive, weaving together technology and human agendas.”

She points out that business survival will, to a large extent, depend on how companies and organisations embrace the future, use technology, invest in skilling and re-skilling employees, develop tailor-made employee benefits, incorporate mental well-being into HR models, develop sustainable working models, and embed Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) practices in business models.

“Up to 67% of the companies surveyed are already building ESG goals into their broader transformation agendas, significantly more than the global average (45%); while one in five organisations (20%) are embedding ESG metrics into executive scorecards.”

Parker echoes the survey’s findings that, no matter the degree to which Covid-19 has affected an industry’s or organisation’s ability to operate, the pandemic has opened many organisations’ eyes to new possibilities.

As a result, companies and organisations have started deeper conversations on such issues as developing people practices that will endure post the pandemic, finding sustainable flexible employee models which can be used as foundations for growth, or for reinventing the future.

Companies are now confronted with unavoidable conversations on how they can use the lessons of the pandemic and use innovation, born out of necessity, to develop a new way of working and plan for reinvention and innovation.

Tesantha Naidoo, senior associate at Mercer, says the race to reskill for a new world economy has started. Of the companies surveyed, at least 63% are already targeting workforce reskilling towards critical talent pools, while 13% intend to increase spending on workforce upskilling/reskilling for the entire workforce.

“Think of the level of change we have experienced,” she says. “It is clear that organisations have to rethink how best to shape the future in order to be equitable for everyone.”

Organisations have to work towards attaining a new normal that is volatile and constantly changing, Naidoo adds.

She suggest that companies and organisations should identify skills that will be needed in the future and share this information with employees.

“Sharing information also means creating pathways for employees to fill future roles in an organisation.”

According to Mercer senior associate Keletjo Chiloane: “Big data is going to be the centrepiece of programmes to re-engage employees. She says 38% of the companies surveyed want to enable digital health check-ups to promote health goals.”

A third of those surveyed planned to address mental or emotional well-being at the workplace, a similar number said they want to introduce a mental well-being strategy, and just under 30% of those surveyed planned to train managers to spot mental health issues before they became an issue.

Overall and in order for businesses to succeed, companies need to develop HR strategies and redesign business models which reflect the new digital reality, as well as the new shape of work.

There is also a move to use more big data and analytics to help align the HR function with business outcomes, Chiloane says.

“In 2020, organisations have collected more data from employees, which brings up new issues that need to be addressed.

There is a need to augment AI with human intuition; while organisations needs to radically update their policies and practices around the ethical use of data.

“We have never had so much data at our disposal, and its use requires sensitivity,” Chiloane says. “HR needs to be closer to the business, and use analytics to support business decisions.”