How to counteract labour shortage crisis, and attract & retain talents

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The four methods that can combat labour shortage problems are: working in partnership; building for employability; delivering on total wellbeing, and understanding the talent drivers.

A Mercer report, 2022 Global Talent Trends Study: The Rise of the Relatable Organisation, revealed talent attraction and retention are top-of-mind for executives across Asia including Singapore, Hong Kong, and India - with seven in 10 executives saying they are facing a labour shortage crisis. A concern, report analysts discovered, most pronounced in Japan (88%) and Mainland China (75%).

Zooming out, the storyline remains rather consistent: the talent challenge shows no signs of abating. Noted in the report, despite 85% of employees in Asia feeling satisfied in their current role, nearly two in five still plan to leave in the next six to 12 months, reflecting that organisations have yet to keep up with evolving employee expectations of work and the workplace. As such, there is a call for organisations to "prioritise reskilling and wellbeing while partnering with employees to co-create the new shape of work".

ICYMI10 rules of modern work

To that end, analysts suggest leaders and employees "work in partnership". In the report, one in two employees across Asia says the future of work is about balance - that is, "fitting work around life, and no longer life around work". Compared to 2020, it was discovered that employees today say they are more likely to stay with their employer due to "life-related factors", such as flexibility and time off, compared to "work-related factors", such as career progression and development.

Furthermore, one in three employees in Asia is willing to forgo pay increases to be able to work flexibly, closely followed by wellbeing benefits. Nearly seven in 10 employees (with the exception of Japan at 51%) were noted saying not being able to work remotely or hybrid permanently is "a deal-breaker" when considering whether to join or stay with an organisation.

On the other hand, more so than employees in Asia and organisations globally, executives in Asia are concerned about the impact of permanent hybrid and remote working, especially the ability to build and maintain colleague relationships (89%). Seven in 10 also believe fundamentally that work gets done in an office, not remotely. With 48% of organisations in Asia saying they are struggling with scaling up and sustaining hybrid work, there is significant work to be done in evolving their flexible work culture.

Puneet Swani, Career Business Leader, AMEA, Mercer, shared: "Employers need to bridge the gap in expectations and embrace new, flexible work models to cultivate a workforce that can design their own careers. Those who find that balance and align their policies to the wants and needs of their employees will not only boost the motivation and engagement of their existing workers, but also will win the best talent".

"Build for employability" is another suggestion raised.

This is because while the pandemic supercharged companies’ race to reskill - data revealed that organisations globally are investing more than US$2,800 per learner in reskilling last year, up from US$1,400 in 2020 - it remains unclear if the investment is paying off. To put this into perspective, nearly all (95%) employees in Asia reported recently learning a new skill, but a staggering 97% of companies report significant skill gaps in their organisation. It is therefore apparent, report analysts added, that although providing opportunities to reskill and upskill is top of the people agenda of organisations in Asia in 2022, barriers remain.

Putting 'lack of time' aside (36%), one of the barriers cited, one in four employees shared they are unsure which skills to focus on as well as where to go to learn a new skill for work, another barrier cited.

With regard to HR leaders, they too have their reservations about upskilling. It was reported that they find it difficult to keep up with the pace of change and emerging skill needs (37%), identify employees with the most potential to effectively leverage new skills (36%), and are concerned that upskilled talent will leave the firm (35%). That said, HR leaders in Asia are reportedly facing the reservations head-on by building skills internally rather than acquiring talent, which analysts said is "a significant shift from pre-pandemic". On top of that, "they are also seeing the greatest impact from targeted learning investments (42%) and experiential learning through internal rotations (42%)", noted in the report.

Following the aforementioned points, "deliver on total wellbeing" is next. To understand the situation, the percentage of energised employees has reportedly "dropped significantly" from 74% in 2019 to 63% this year, cited as the lowest level in the study’s seven-year history. Across Asia, the number dipped to 56% and 44% for Japan and Singapore respectively, which are well below the regional average of 68%. As well, eight in 10 employees in Asia, including a staggering 95% in Hong Kong, feel at risk of burnout this year.

Howbeit, only one in four executives and HR leaders in Asia view said employee exhaustion as a threat to transformation or a driver of attrition. This, however, should not be the case according to analysts, as with nearly all (98%) organisations planning significant transformation this year, "the collective fatigue could put these plans at risk".

It was added in the report that "it will be critical to rethink the employee experience and their wellbeing strategy more holistically and inclusively. Enhancing digital adoption, improving the communication of strategic vision, and addressing organisational complexity will be key".

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Last but not least, "understand the talent drivers"

According to findings, there is a fundamental change in people’s values underpinning a structural shift in the labour market. After the factor of job security, organisational brand & reputation was found to be the second reason for employees who joined their current employer, up from 9th pre-pandemic times. As such, analysts encourage organisations to listen intently to their stakeholders, and walk the talk on their core values through company purpose and work standards - for understanding talent drivers is critical.

Renée McGowan, President, Asia, Middle East & Africa, Mercer, explained: "Recovery in the region remains fragile amid challenges of rising inflation, geopolitical conflicts, climate change and digitalisation. A top worry for executives in Asia is business resilience, which is closely intertwined with the resilience of their workforce. A thriving workforce creates a thriving business. Now more than ever, organisations need to consider the role of all their employees in shaping solutions and addressing challenges from hybrid work and wellbeing to reskilling and sustainability – so they’ll feel more relevant, connected, and valued."

Read also3 things HR leaders should focus on in 2022


There are approximately 11,000 respondents - comprising C-suites, HR leaders, and employees - who participated in this study, representing 16 key geographies, and 13 industries.

Image / 123RF

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