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Covid-19 turned the world upside down last year, bringing the global economy to a grinding halt and shaking business confidence. A silver lining of the crisis is that it has streamlined HR functions and accelerated the shift towards digital. This has, in turn, led to an increased urgency to reshuffle HR priorities towards workforce transformation.

A new report by Mercer, Global Talent Trends 2021, has identified four key trends HR in Hong Kong should watch out for this year and suggested ways to stay ahead of the competition:

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Trend 1: Building a forward-thinking company

With 65% of surveyed businesses in Hong Kong reported suffering an economic blow due to the pandemic, more than half (55%) express intentions to invest in identifying future workforce needs or restructuring their workforce strategies this year.

To become a future-ready company, companies are fast-tracking environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) developments by revisiting their purpose and embedding these values into their transformation plans; putting employee wellbeing and business resilience at the forefront by identifying the individual’s unique health, wealth and wellbeing needs; and imbuing flexibility into work models and arrangements.

When asked what would make the biggest difference in the city, companies said visible instances of career progression for flexible workers (44%), followed by reinventing flexibility as a core part of their transformation journey and creating access to remote health and benefits options (35%).

On top of building strategies, the report points out that the key success factor is cultivating a workplace culture that is forward looking and growth minded.

Trend 2: Reskilling and upskilling

More than four out of 10 (41%) of employers in Hong Kong plan to target workforce upskilling and reskilling toward critical talent pools. While more than a quarter (27%) of companies are making upskilling and reskilling this year’s priority, only one in five plan to incentivise transformation through rewarding skill adoption or change.

Additionally, 31% of organisations in Hong Kong are intensifying development of remote working skills with an emphasis on virtual collaboration.

The top five in-demand skills of 2021 are adaptability and growth mindset (57%), collaboration (47%), self-management and prioritisation skills (45%), complex information processing (33%), and openness to learning new skills (25%).

Mercer suggests five areas for companies to consider: Develop a skill-based talent management framework for assessment, consider a pay-for-skills approach, encourage skill adoption and learning through rewards, and align various structures such as methods, processes, and systems with company culture.

Trend 3: Data, AI and privacy concerns

The pandemic has increased the amount and types of data that are collected in Hong Kong. Close to two in five (39%) surveyed HR had or are using data to monitor the impact of leader communication during the pandemic, and nearly a quarter (24%) of board members and senior management are deploying data to drive cost containment.

The report has shown that more organisations are using AI to remind managers to have conversations with employees at key milestones to reduce the risk of them leaving (26%) and to optimise benefit enrollment experience (20%), compared with 2020 (9%).

This year, companies are looking to improve learning or skill acquisition (48%), strategic workforce planning or remodeling (45%), performance related to flexible working, and pay equity (35%) through HR analytics.

However, following the rise of AI and data analytics, data privacy concerns have come to fore. In view of developments in the past year, two-thirds (65%) of HR in Hong Kong are concerned about collection of personal identifiable information, data security and increased cyber risks. Employees are most uncomfortable when employers learn about the health or infection status of their immediate family (41%) and themselves (39%), and contact tracing measures related to their health or infection status.

The report advises that HR should upskill managers and employees on the significance of privacy, stay alert of statutory legal updates and ensure internal cyber and data protection are strong.

Trend 4: Employee experience

To build a trusting and high-performing employee experience, employers in Hong Kong are looking at three areas: Flexibility, innovation and co-creation, and process optimisation.

The majority of companies were able to maintain a company culture as they shifted to a blended work model (76%), have relinquished micro-managing employee behaviours (69%), engaged in a process to seek the most wanted benefits for different groups of employees (71%), and deployed design thinking and engaging processes to co-create new employee experiences (67%).

Top five priorities for HR leaders in 2021, as revealed by Mercer’s report are:

  1. Continuously collect feedback and measure the effectiveness of its campaign
  2. Design and implement flexible working policies
  3. Identify future work needs and upskill workforce
  4. Further drive digital transformation, understand what employees value and develop operating model and experience based on that
  5. Develop health and wellbeing-oriented programmes – which underscore healthy people equal healthy business.

The sixth edition of Mercer’s Global Talent Trends surveyed over 7,300 senior business executives, HR leaders and employees across 44 markets in the last quarter of 2020. There were 51 respondents in Hong Kong.

Highlights of the report: