Jobs and the Future of Work

Talent trends in Asia: How to boost workforce productivity and well-being

Asia must adopt new technologies to boost the productivity of its workforce.

Asia must adopt new technologies to boost the productivity of its workforce. Image: Freepik.com

Peta Latimer
President, Mercer Asia
Catherine Li Zhaoqi
Chief Executive Officer, Marsh McLennan China
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  • Mercer’s Global Talent Trends 2024 Asia report reveals three key areas of focus for Asia.
  • By following these steps companies can thrive amidst evolving technology and employee expectations.
  • Success will be an empowered, productive workforce with well-being at its centre.

Drawing insights from 3,600 executives, HR leaders and employees in Asia, Mercer’s Global Talent Trends 2024 Asia (GTT) has uncovered organizations’ three key employee-related concerns:

  • Adapting to new technologies: Companies find it difficult to get the right balance between adapting their human capital strategy and technology.

    Although 41% of executives in Asia believe the biggest productivity boost to their businesses is by investing in artificial intelligence (AI), 86% believe that less than half of their workforce can adapt if their jobs are changed/eliminated by AI. The situation is made worse by 62% of companies implementing technology without transforming the way they work, creating no-value/busy work that depletes productivity. In China, only 28% of HR managers are confident in the success of human-machine collaboration, and 82% of executives are concerned about employee adaptability.
  • Trust in employers has plummeted: From 80% in 2022 to 65% in 2024, with broken promises, such as not delivering on promotions and career opportunities, as the main contributor.
  • Employees are still burnt out: 83% of Asia’s employees reported experiencing burnout in the past year, with financial strain as top reason. They spend, on average, six hours of work time monthly worrying about their finances.
Organizations in Asia face these struggles. Source: Global Talent Trends 2024 Asia.

Balancing human capital strategy and technology roadmaps with the three ‘Rs’

As employers in Asia adopt new technologies to boost productivity gains, they need to ensure that their human capital strategy aligns to their technology roadmaps, while also making considerable improvements in fostering trust and well-being.

1. Redesign work

Work redesign, a process where existing job responsibilities and tasks are reviewed, revised, and reallocated, can reveal skills gaps as well as opportunities to upskill and reskill to bring about productivity. This process can benefit many organizations as existing models, which are more focused on job functions versus skills, often lack the agility to respond to new technologies. Many organizations in Asia are just beginning to transition to a job-based construct, which lags behind the best practices of more mature global peers. Unless job roles are clearly defined and skills are aligned with the new work design, new technology may compromise workforce productivity.

Organizations should:

  • Create a skills taxonomy and map employees’ skills to it, which enables organizations to identify individuals with the potential to adapt when new competencies are required.
  • Develop a proficiency framework to assess employees' competency levels for specific skills.
  • Design a skills-based rewards programme that incentivizes skills development.

To fully leverage AI and technology, companies must redesign workflows and provide adequate training. In China, only 45% of surveyed employees believe that their companies will provide sufficient training, while 56% of executives believe that the pace of technological development exceeds the speed of employee retraining.

As organizations seek to boost productivity by leveraging technology, their ability to adapt people strategy and gain the trust of employees will determine whether they can realize productivity gains.

Establishing a redesigned workforce and a skills-based strategy is a journey and can get overwhelming. Depending on the organization’s maturity level, it is important to identify and plan a starting point that works best for the organization.

2. Rebuild employees’ trust

As the strongest variable influencing how energized employees feel at work, it is imperative for organizations to build trust through empathy. Employees who trust their organization are three times as likely to report they are thriving, and more likely to stay.

Execute pay equity across diverse groups and communicate clearly

To alleviate the risk of broken promises, organizations can facilitate two-way communication with employees. Regular updates on the company’s goals, strategies and decisions on pay equity, including actively listening to employees’ feedback and suggestions with follow-up actions, can lead to greater employee trust.

Promote equity by “flipping the pyramid”

Organizations can provide equitable benefits, particularly healthcare and medical insurance, at every level, especially for employees at lower job bands who typically need it more, by:

  • Conducting a thorough analysis of employees' needs.
  • Addressing the most critical needs first, e.g. reducing out-of-pocket medical expenses.
  • Optimizing benefit programmes to eliminate outdated, inappropriate and inadequate plans based on identified needs.
  • Effectively communicating new benefit offerings to the workforce.

Provide support for those who are in the role of a family caregiver

In Asia, one in two “dual caregivers” – employees financially supporting both children and parents – feel “somewhat stressed” every day. As Asia’s ageing population grows, employers can support caregivers to build trust.

A good example is a pharmaceutical company in China that provides professionally trained caregivers for their employees’ hospitalized family members, enabling peace of mind for employees who work in the city and find it difficult to care for their loved ones.

3. Relieve employee burnout and financial strain

According to GTT, providing financial well-being benefits is eighth on HR’s list of priorities, even though it is the top reason for burnout in Asia. Organizations can take these two actions to alleviate financial strain among employees:

Empower financial literacy

Low levels of financial literacy can lead to stress and anxiety. Financial planning talks on topics around investment, retirement and children’s education can help employees make well-informed financial decisions. Companies can also consider contributing to employees’ retirement funds to ensure they have sufficient retirement savings.

Secure preferential rates

To help employees cope with inflation and rising cost of living, companies can work with local communities to secure preferential rates through economies of scale for big ticket items such as housing loans, childcare fees, mobile plans as well as daily necessities.

Building a thriving workforce in Asia

As Asia’s workplace evolves rapidly, fundamental changes to employee experience can have unintended impacts. Organizations will need to weave together their human capital strategy and technology roadmaps, while also make considerable improvements in fostering trust and well-being to build a thriving workforce.

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