The Human-Centric Enterprise ebook is the result of a partnership between Thinkers50 and Mercer. The subject is close to our hearts at Thinkers50: understanding how to manage and lead organisations in the most humane way — in a way which truly maximizes the amazing variety of human potential.
With contributions from Mercer experts, The Human-Centric Enterprise portrays a working world in which best practice is being realigned to accord with the needs and aspirations of people rather than balance sheets or restrictive notions of efficiency. It acknowledges the powerful evolution of amazing technologies, but places them in the human context, as enablers of human achievement rather than replacements for people.
Dive into Kate Bravery’s chapter to find out how relatable organisations are winning hearts and minds.
Kate is a senior partner and Mercer’s Global Advisory Solutions and Insight Leader. She has worked in Asia, Australia, the US, and Europe helping organisations achieve a talent advantage through their people.
In her current role, she supports Mercer’s thought leadership agenda, knowledge management and colleague sales enablement. She also leads on solution innovations for the HR buyer and colleague learning in the Talent, Reward and Transformation practices. She has held office, practice and market leadership roles at Mercer. Before her current position, she was the Career Global Practices Leader and, prior to that role, served as the Growth Market Regional Practice Leader for Talent Strategy and Organizational Performance.
Kate is the author of Mercer’s annual Global Talent Trends Study and speaks regularly on the future of work. She is currently partnering with the World Economic Forum under their Good Work Alliance project to define Good Work standards and metrics. She is a non-executive director of Digital Frontiers.
Watch our interview with Kate Bravery here:
The human-centric enterprise
As the future of work rapidly evolves, we must urgently reassess our understanding of where, how and why we work.
Developed by Mercer and Thinkers50, The Human-Centric Enterprise redefines our perspective on putting people at the centre of modern workplaces.
Chapter 1: How relatable organizations are winning hearts and minds in the people age
How well do you know the people in your organization? What do they worry about? What matters to them? How well do they know you and your values?
Questions like these used to seem trivial. Leaders were the experts, and employees were to follow their lead and earn results. Personal morals, cares and dreams were beside the point. But now, as we deliver on the future of work, they are exactly the point. The values of company leaders can shape the future of the entire organization.
In early 2020, Mercer partnered with the World Economic Forum (WEF) on the future of work agenda — which, unbeknownst to us, was about to come to a sudden halt. The pandemic’s impact on discussions at the WEF was dramatic. No longer was the conversation dominated by AI and automation. The impact on jobs, health and well-being took center stage; as we leaped from a digital crisis to a health crisis, we also saw a reset in how people interacted across traditional divides.
Tapaswee Chandele, Global VP of Talent & Development for The Coca-Cola Company, put it beautifully when she said after the pandemic that the company’s leaders were inspired to “step back and reflect on ‘what have we actually learned about our workforce? What have we learned about what people want from their life and from their careers?’” She added that they had examined the role of a leader in the future and realized that “it’s about moving away from being a director of tasks to being an enabler of dreams.”
Today, winning organizations are delivering on that vision. They relate to their employees not only as workers but also as stakeholders in the company’s success. And as employees continue to be more enterprising, enterprises become more human. Becoming this kind of human-centric, relatable organization is key to engaging and retaining talent in the people age.
Resetting for the world we’re in
If you’d seen it in a film, would you believe how much the workplace has evolved over the past few years?
One remarkable truth of our collective pandemic experience is that despite the fact that we spent much of it six feet apart, our workplaces actually brought us closer together. Coming out of this period, Mercer’s Global Talent Trends research showed that trust in organizations was soaring. People were highly optimistic, seeing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rethink their relationships with work — and, indeed, with one another. Employees contemplated new questions: Where and how do I want to work? What does work actually mean to me? How does my work impact the world?
During the pandemic years, we got to know our organizations more intimately than ever — warts and all. Leaders had shockingly candid conversations about safety, pay and protocols. Workers openly compared their experiences at different firms. Organizations deftly balanced empathy with economics, and leading companies were already thinking about how to cultivate more sustainable workplaces. What we didn’t realize at the time was that these human-centric values would reset the future of work agenda forever.
There is an idea in science called punctuated equilibrium, which posits that evolutionary change is not slow and steady but comes all at once in short, dramatic bursts tied to specific events. We saw this sort of change in the past few years as society fundamentally shifted and work changed with it. Employees began to feel seen as equal stakeholders in their companies’ futures and began to hold their employers to a higher standard.
In 2020, 54% of Americans said they would quit if their employers did not speak out about racial injustice. More recently, 75% of Gen Z consumers in the US and UK said they were likely to consider finding a new job if they felt misaligned with their employers on key social issues. It’s therefore no surprise that in Mercer’s Global Talent Trends research, a company’s reputation jumped from 7th position in 2021 to 2nd in 2022 as the reason people joined the company.
The same research showed the importance of flexible working, with more than one-third of employees saying they would forgo a pay increase in exchange for more flexibility in hours and/or work location, better benefits, and additional time off. In 2023, remote job postings on LinkedIn continue to draw an increasing number of applications.
Organizations have adapted to these changing expectations as they seek to retain talent in a more human- centered way. Relatable organizations are already innovating to meet demand for both job security and flexibility. At Unilever, the U Works program provides talent with stable income while offering the chance to explore other opportunities outside the organization. Workers retain their permanent status — with pensions, healthcare and benefits, and a minimum income — but also contract back for work inside the firm. Unilever Chief Talent, Learning and Rewards Officer Placid Jover explains that “you can say: ‘I work for Unilever. I am a permanent Unilever employee.’ But at any point in time you could be actively working for another company with another business. You could be setting up your own company.”
The people-driven future of work that for so long has been waiting in the wings is finally taking flight. In this new reality — which we call the people age — the robots have not come for our jobs, nor has the corporate machine destroyed humanity. Instead, AI and automation are helping to usher in new ways of partnering with technology and with one another. And organizations are committing to a deep and much-needed focus on health, well-being and sustainable ways of working.
What people want from work fundamentally has not changed; how they want to engage with work has
Evolving needs in changing times
As we emerge from the pandemic period, people around the world are burned out, stressed out, financially pressured and emotionally drained. Gen Z, in particular, is both hungry for change and highly attuned to well- being as recent work from Oliver Wyman has shown. Companies have been forced to rethink how they meet employee needs.
Tripti Jha, Chief Talent and People Solutions Officer at Novartis, sums it up like this: “Well-being is a responsibility, it is not a benefit … Well-being needs to be out front of how the work is organized in an organization.” She adds, “How you feel is as important as how you perform, because the two are deeply connected.”
Organizations are responding with the “thrive contract,” which takes a whole-person perspective — focusing on employee health and well-being needs in return for a healthy and productive workforce.
This has largely replaced the more unidimensional “engagement contract,” which dominated in the early 2000s and placed the focus on work and the workplace. We are also now seeing the seeds of the “lifestyle contract” as workers seek to respond to the intertwining of their work and lives and enter a real dialogue about what they want from their employment arrangements.
The rise of the relatable organization
Employees of all generations are no longer willing to sacrifice today for a brighter tomorrow; they want things to be better now. The organizations that act with humanity and create more human-centered workplaces will win in the people age. This is the spirit behind the Good Work Framework that launched its associated metrics at Davos in January 2023 — encapsulating the learnings from the WEF’s CHRO community with which Mercer proudly partnered in defining the new world of work. The Good Work movement urges companies to lead with their values and set bold ambitions around the “S” in their environmental, social and governance (ESG) agendas — all in pursuit of raising the bar for a value-driven, equitable and human-centric future of work.
The framework has key objectives for organizations that want to lead the charge on staying relevant, responsible and relatable. It proposes a series of metrics and reporting guidelines to galvanize these commitments into action. Companies such as Randstad, Schneider Electric, Unilever and Marsh McLennan — some of the Good Work Alliance members — are making efforts in a range of areas. These include upskilling and reskilling programs, flexible work options across the organization, ensuring pay equity, and providing a living wage.
Many companies are also weaving Good Work into their employee value propositions. This trend aligns with Mercer’s recent Global Talent Trends Study finding that employee experience would be one of HR’s top priorities in 2023. Now, 37% of HR leaders are actively designing work with well-being in mind (for example, realistic workloads, no-meeting days, reduced complexity, positive work environment, culture of trust, etc.). Of these, 46% are enabling workers to take paid time away from work for everyday life activities (such as doctors’ appointments and child school events). And 67% are building a culture in which employees feel comfortable bringing their authentic selves to work.
As Atrayee Sarkar Sanyal, VP of Human Resource Management for Tata Steel, noted on the launch of the Good Work initiative, “There comes a time for major breakthroughs in the way work, the workforce and the workplace undergo a threshold change. I think the time is now, with the pandemic and Industry 4.0 giving us the opportunity to reorganize ourselves. We will need to realign our strategy, systems and structures with changing realities. The new work philosophy will be embedded in agility and flexibility together with empathy.”
High-growth companies are revamping their employee experience to align with evolving expectations
Five areas in focus for relatable organizations (what they do)
Mercer’s 2023 Global Talent Trends research highlighted what sets top companies apart from the rest, not just in terms of financial results but also in helping employees thrive. These leading organizations were striving to be more relatable in five important ways. Relatable organizations are:
- Resetting for relevance: They have reset expectations and work patterns to deliver on the wants of their customers, the needs of their workforces, and the interests of their investors and shareholders. Remaining relevant means building sufficient adaptive capacity into work models, making new commitments aligned with stakeholder expectations, and ensuring that goals and metrics reinforce the new direction. As Travis Barton, Global Talent Leader at GE Renewable Energy, has reflected, “Diversity is getting equal attention relative to other key business metrics like cash flow and quality.”
- Working in partnership: To embrace new ways of working (internal, gig, part-time, shift, etc.), relatable organizations are coaching leaders and managers on sound partnering skills and putting in place intentional work-design These foundations help retain a focus on inclusion and equity as different employee preferences play out and ensure that new work models do not inadvertently disadvantage any one population when it comes to opportunity, pay and promotion. This partnering mindset drives respect for the workforce and their lives outside of work — and ultimately a more sustainable work model for all.
- Delivering on total well-being: Financial wellness, mental health and social well-being, in addition to physical health, have never been more critical for employees. Relatable organizations offer inclusive benefits (often with triggers around preventive healthcare) to keep their workforces healthy, socially connected and financially well. Consistent with prior years, Mercer’s 2023 Health on Demand findings suggest that supporting the widest possible range of employee needs makes a difference. Of the employees who have access to 10 or more benefits (such as medical coverage, life insurance and mental health counseling), 82% say they are thriving, compared to just 58% of those with access to between one and four traditional benefits.
- Building for employability: Relatable organizations help their employees — including nontraditional talent — plot a career path that can lead to better pay and promotion prospects. They do so by moving beyond formalized learning to a model that improves the flow of workers to opportunities, opens up opportunities to nontraditional talent and creates time for learning. This approach delivers an edge in terms of talent agility and acknowledges the role organizations play in helping people remain employable over time.
- Harnessing collective energy: Addressing the other energy crisis of our age — the human one — requires an understanding of the energy-sappers in the organization. One key culprit is change fatigue, which is why relatable organizations actively engage their workers to ensure transformation is not only human-centered in its pursuit but human-led in its But it also includes aspects of the day-to-day employee experience, which can be addressed by auditing the time load required by technology rollouts, purging toxic work cultures and reviewing the desired HR interaction model to further unlock the joy in work. (You can read more about these models in Chapter 7.)
The human behaviors of relatable organizations (how they do it)
How are relatable organizations listening more?
Relatable organizations are always in listening mode. This effort takes many forms, from employee listening to external research to workforce analytics. Understanding stakeholder needs is crucial to remaining relevant and building resilience into the organizational fabric. Companies that don’t listen could seem tone-deaf in today’s transparent world.
Ask yourself these questions to gauge your own listening efforts:
- How do you stay attuned and responsive to market signals and encourage your people to look outside for inspiration?
- How do you proactively and regularly understand the pay, promotion, retirement and health outcomes for different populations in your company? What plans are in place to correct gaps that are uncovered?
- When making an important decision (for example, changes in policies, real estate moves, etc.), do you conduct digital focus groups or pulse surveys to understand employees’ preferences and concerns? How do you ensure that a diverse group is invited to contribute? How do you incorporate their feedback and show that you’ve truly heard what they had to say?
How are relatable organizations speaking up more?
Relatable organizations are not afraid to come off mute on their values. This is not just about public commitments to causes and values; it’s also about backing commitments up with tangible actions and continued progress. But for trusted brands, trying and failing to meet those commitments is often less damning than staying silent.
Here’s a quick check to help ensure you’re on track:
- How do you engage in an open dialogue with colleagues, customers and the communities in which you operate? Do you hesitate to stand up for organizational values for fear of getting it wrong or not showing enough progress?
- How do you walk the talk? How do your compensation, benefits, flexible work offerings and other policies align with your stated values?
- How are you managing Good Work goals alongside revenue and profit goals? How do you encourage managers and employees to balance economics and empathy in everyday decisions? How are value- aligned decisions recognized and rewarded?
How are relatable organizations learning more?
Relatable organizations prioritize a “learn everything” culture over a “know everything” culture. This means democratizing access to data while both promoting and funding experimentation.
Want to foster a “learn everything” culture? Consider the following:
- How do you generate a sense of psychological safety so that people feel okay to try new things, make mistakes and share failures to fuel learning?
- What guidance do you provide for employees on what skills will be valued tomorrow, and how do you help them acquire (and practice) those skills? How do you create space for workers to learn within working hours?
- How do you ensure career and learning opportunities are open to all candidates, not just the “usual suspects?” How are managers incentivized to take a chance on nontraditional talent? What technology platforms do you have in place to democratize access and to direct learning into productive skill-building pursuits?
How are relatable organizations working hand in hand with their workforces?
Relatable organizations let their employees lead from the front. The future of work agenda is certainly being accelerated by the next generation, who will be its inheritors. Opening up strategy formation as well as strategy execution has a magnifying impact on engagement.
As you work toward a better partnership with your workforce, ask yourself:
- How are you giving people an opportunity to reshape work? Is your culture one of asking permission or demonstrating that it can be done?
- How are your tech platforms enabling new ways of working and collaborating for your employees? How do you ensure technology augments their work without adding to their burden? When was the last time you asked about what depletes energy?
- How are you maintaining a human element amid the rapid proliferation of AI and automation in everyday decision-making? How do you ensure that the role of technology is to empower and redeploy employees in new ways rather than replace them?
Bold ambitions, bold commitments
Becoming a human-centered, relatable organization often requires several things: a philosophical reset of how we view the people that contribute to our company’s success, a recognition of our true purpose, an understanding of our entity as an organization with agency, and a vision of the impact we wish to have on the world. Today, businesses are grappling with labor shortages. In fact, one in two executives feel they don’t have sufficient talent to meet the demand for their organizations’ products or services. We are also challenged by lack of talent agility; only 33% of executives believe they can effectively scale up and down to respond to market volatility. What is painfully evident is that those that do well by employees, contractors, vendors, their customers and their shareholders are the least likely to suffer these crippling talent shortages.
Delivering on this task takes intentional design and a willingness to balance economics and empathy in decision-making. As we wrestle with continuing economic and social crises, the seeds of discontent are beginning to creep back in as real wages decline, gaps in social expectations continue and companies revoke promises around flexibility. But as long as organizations — and their leaders — act with humility and not hubris, these headwinds will not set us back. The trust that organizations will do right by their workers and society is at an all-time high. If we nurture this trust with greater listening, learning and collaboration, we can build a brighter and more sustainable future together.