Uncertainty reigns as talent leaders grapple with flexibility, AI

The global talent trends Mercer researchers have highlighted are the ones that have already made headlines: Inflation’s strain on workers’ wallets, their desire for more pay to keep up with the cost of living and the continued impact of AI. Employers and employees also still spar over new work models. 

But, in a webinar cracking open the report, Mercer’s Global Talent Advisory Leader Kate Bravery noted, “We’ve certainly got more uncertainty on the horizon. But at the same time, we’ve also seen greater convergence in views this year across generations and geographies.”

Here are a few key findings from Mercer’s report, which polled 12,200 HR professionals, as well as executives, employees and investors.

Artificial intelligence demands different human talent

A lot of the employers polled mentioned looking at AI as a matter of product integration. But generative AI is becoming a part of the fabric of work in general.

Mercer noted 20 priorities for HR leaders in 2024; no. 5 was “Redesigning work to incorporate AI and automation.” This means 40% of HR professionals polled by Mercer have AI workflows on their people agenda. (Also in the top 10 HR pro priorities were enhancing EX, improved health benefits, workforce planning and people analytics.)

In covering the report, Bravery noted the significance of the AI at work conversation. Referencing Mercer’s approach to researching humans in a “machine-augmented world,” Bravery said, “We know that it’s humans [who] will effectively unlock AI’s real potential.” 

More than 50% of executives polled by Mercer expressed their belief that their businesses won’t survive past 2030 without “embracing AI at scale.” 

What are gold standard C-suites doing to successfully embrace AI? They prioritize human-centric productivity, foster trust, ensure equitable work practice and lean into a “digitally-infused future,” the report found.

“As risks become more connected and less predictable, [organizations that outpace their competitors] understand that a new level of risk awareness and mitigation is essential to building a ready and resilient workforce,” researchers said in the report.

As new work models emerge, EX should be re-examined

“I don’t think you’ll be surprised, but HR’s top concerns this year are rising labor costs, and ensuring new work models — flex, gig, short-term work models — are really delivering long-term value,” Bravery said. 

A whopping 98% of employers are planning “work design changes” for 2024. The main goal is to tweak workflow to increase productivity; Mercer identified the concept of fixed roles, flex roles or “agile roles that benefit from skills-based planning and credentialing.”

Hybrid work continued to reign as a key factor in productivity. “While it may seem that employers have finalized return-to-office plans and codified their post-pandemic flexible working policies, in fact 41% are planning further changes this year,” researchers said in the report.

Mercer broke down flexible work into “six dimensions:”

  • Where, as in location and infrastructure;
  • When, as in hours and scheduling;
  • What, as in job content and sharing;
  • Who, as in alternative workforce and automation;
  • How, as in scaling and technology; and
  • Why, as in mission and purpose.

The idea of value was persistent across the webinar. For one, more workers said they were sticking with their employer this year — which is poignant, given that panelists acknowledged the Great Resignation and how it changed the work landscape.

Bravery also highlighted, “More employees shared that their needs are not being met — especially older workers and Gen Z. We’ve got work to do there.” 

Engagement will be an area that stakeholders “need to watch out for this year,” across the board, Bravery said.