How HR can help build a strong workforce of the future

Human resources has the daunting task of manoeuvring the workforce of the future, which doesn't only entail the next generation, but also an evolving work environment thanks to automation and new technologies, that is changing the way employers liaison with their employees.

India is one of the world’s fastest growing major economies, recent concerns of a slowdown notwithstanding. India is also home to a young population and it is expected that by 2020, the average age in India will be 29 years. Should the current rate of population growth continue, India will overtake China to become the most populous nation by 2050. The millennials and generation X demographics dominate the Indian workforce, with 98 percent of working individuals belonging to these generation segments.

While it is popularly called out as a ‘demographic dividend’, it also implies that economic growth and resulting job creation need to serve the needs of the millions of new graduates entering the workforce each year. The situation has been exacerbated with the rapidly evolving skills requirement, with the advent of new technologies. Additionally, the curricula in most tertiary educational institutions, have not kept up with this evolution. We hope that the government will proactively take steps to address the burgeoning gap through broad-based reforms in education and focusing on better partnerships between the academia and the corporate sector.

According to Mercer Talent Trends 2017, in India, jobs in the next three years will focus more on design and innovation, and as more jobs will be done virtually; salaried workforce will primarily be in management roles, with much broader spans of control. As India Inc welcomes five generations in the workplace and embraces the shifting nature of jobs, it will be critical how human resources (HR) professionals manage to attract and retain today’s talent, while striking the right balance and finding a sustainable way to build capability for the future.

Shift in What Indian Employees Value

Mercer Talent Trends 2016 showed that an Indian employee valued 'Focus on Learning' as the most important aspect of the employee value proposition. However, in 2017, the focus has shifted to 'Pay and Promotion', signaling a shift to what a younger workforce demographic typically values. It has been noted that 93 percent Indian employees want to be recognised and rewarded for contributions beyond their role definitions. They also seek greater clarity on performance ratings and periodic constructive feedback. With the wide adoption of technology, 54 percent workers want their organisations to offer more flexible work options.

Health and wellness are also accorded high priority and again 54 percent of the employees want their employers to focus on this aspect by way of offering compelling benefits. While the baby boomers and traditionalists sought the comfort of long-term careers, the younger workforce in India would prefer to have the liberty to navigate their own careers. 70 percent of workers would rather work on a contractual basis, resonating with the global rise of the gig economy. As per the employees, few key areas that would make a positive impact on their work are represented below:

Employee Flight is a Reality

In the two decades that followed India’s economic liberalisation since the early 90s, robust job expansion and greater-than-inflation wage growth has meant that the employees in general were more engaged at the workplace. However, with increasing automation and shifting nature of jobs, there may be an increasing sense of disenchantment with the traditional full-time model. 70 percent of employees in India would rather work on a contractual basis. Likewise, certain organisations too foresee that only managerial positions in the future would be salaried. However, the reality is the 16.4 percent average annual attrition rate, recorded in 2016. The turnover rate is higher in roles in high demand, such as sales and data science. This can perhaps be attributed to those 20 percent of employees, reporting that they do not feel empowered to create their own success at work. Furthermore, a staggering 60 percent of employees are likely to change jobs within the next 12 months. In this regard, most organisations have identified job families that are difficult to retain. And 33 percent of companies have instituted a retention bonus policy. This policy is aimed at specifically to retain special skills and retain employees with flight risk. More can be done by companies in India in the context of creating compelling career paths for employees, while providing them with a skills development and learning roadmap, which will enable them to fulfill their career aspirations.

Addressing Human Resource Challenges

Evidently, India’s enormous labor force presents diverse HR challenges, and in order for HR teams to be future-ready, organisations must adapt to changing trends.

Facilitate a Culture Shift

Organisations must recognise the need for a fundamental cultural shift need in order to prepare for the digital disruption. The people strategy and talent interventions have to be evidence-based, using workforce analytics and closely linked to business outcomes. As organisations prepare to be more customer-centric and agile, HR as custodians of culture have to drive a shift in employee mindset so that employees feel more empowered and energised about their work.

Transform the Organisation

HR teams must partner business strategically. In doing so, they must nurture and develop leaders for the future, grooming them into future leaders with the skills to take on ever-changing business environments. Strategies that could be implemented include: cross-functional or cross-geography experience; global exposure; customised career plans; rotational stints; mentoring and coaching; and high impact action learning projects.

Associated costs must also be closely monitored to maintain adequate checks and to bolster growth. Buying talent by paying above the market is no longer sustainable, and therefore HR professionals have to focus on a combination of ‘build’ and ‘buy’ strategies to bring in the skills needed to make their organisations future-ready. In this regard, 54 percent of Indian CEOs are likely to transform their organisations into significantly different entities over the next three years.

Know Your Talent

Each generation has a different requirement, and a deeper look at generational preferences outlines varying total rewards priorities for each. Organisations must ascertain what motivates this multigenerational talent. They must also design and maintain an engaging rewards philosophy and leverage on data analytics to attract and retain talent. To this effect, 85 percent of Indian CEOs are planning large investments on data analytics tools. Companies are currently tracking a) workforce metrics such as turnover, demographics, attraction and retention; and b) organisational efficiency metrics such as financial impact and cost efficiencies.

HR may also like to start tracking employee development, manager efficiency and succession planning.

-By Shanthi Naresh and Ruchika Pal

Shanthi Naresh is a Senior Principal and leader Mercer’s Career business in India. She has over 30 years of experience, both as a HR leader and later, as a consultant. Before joining Mercer back in 2008, she was leading Talent Strategy at Sun Microsystems in California.

Ruchika Pal is a Principal with Mercer India’s Career business and leads the global mobility and India Total Remuneration Survey (TRS) segments. She has over 14 years of experience as an HR practitioner and a consultant across a diverse range of industries.


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