Health

small-tiles Alice Harkness | 31 Oct 2019

Benefits have traditionally been provided on a "one-size-fits-all" model, meaning some employees gain greater value than others. Today, employees increasingly expect more personalized benefits that allow them to flex and utilize benefits depending on their particular needs and life stage. This allows employees to feel they are being treated equally, independent of circumstances (i.e., single or married). It's time to break the mold with a "non-traditional" approach that may include well-being incentives, opt-in/out insurance coverage and a design that allows individuals to claim parents' expenses or pet care expenses. Forward-thinking companies are on this journey already, but many aren't, as HR departments overestimate employee's satisfaction with the status quo. Why? They're afraid to ask. The risk of not asking can result in investing valuable budget on unused or underutilized benefits. Get to Know Your Employees Better   Don't be afraid to ask the tough questions. Gather feedback through engagement "spot" surveys or focus groups on what employees like and dislike in current offerings or what else would be beneficial. While it may be impossible to implement everything, it's a great opportunity to engage. Employees may not know what they need. Use data analytics to better understand what types of benefits (especially health) are being used the most and what's essential. Are people reporting that they want more well-being incentives, yet no one is taking advantage of your discounted gym membership offering? By combining qualitative and quantitative data, you can identify gaps. Sometimes, that gap is not on the offer itself but rather the communication around it. Communication Is Key   We often hear from HR, "Our employees have good knowledge of their benefits; we communicate them every year." This is not enough. Effective communication is key. Employees are time-poor with little patience for reviewing the fine print of policies. Why not get feedback on their preferred channels of communication? Find simple ways to communicate regularly, focusing on different benefit offerings. This can include infographics, interactive landing pages, videos or simply shorter, bite-sized information. Don't forget to tell employees why certain benefits are important — they don't always know! Flexible Doesn't Always Equate to $$$   Providing personalized benefits can be costly, but it doesn't have to be. It's about taking your current budget and creatively investing in employees in a way that resonates. Another benefit is confidence in knowing your investment is being used. Companies who invest the time in designing benefits that resonate with employees — throwing out the traditional approach by embracing new ways of more personalized thinking — will see a greater return on investment and a happier, more engaged workforce.

Innovation

small-tiles Wejdan Alosaimi | 17 Oct 2019

For many decades, Saudi Arabia — as a nation, culture and economic force — has been inextricably tied to oil exports and the energy industry. However, a bold new vision, named Saudi Vision 2030, aims to wean the country off its dependencies on fossil fuels through the creation of sweeping new reforms and policies. This vision looks to modernize Saudi Arabia, both as a domestic society and a global financial powerhouse. The Power of Embracing Change   In 2016, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud led the unveiling of the Saudi Vision 2030 initiative, which detailed the nation's unprecedented and extraordinary commitment to emerge as a leader in a rapidly evolving world. As oil prices continue to react to new economic realities and regional political forces shape the roles and objectives of nations throughout the Middle East, Saudi Arabia's decision to proactively embrace change could have extraordinary foreign and domestic ramifications. With a population of more than 33.4 million people and a median age of 25, Saudi Arabia faces a future filled with significant challenges and opportunities.1 Saudi Vision 2030 is a road map for how the nation will empower its millions of young citizens to work and thrive in a globalized world that increasingly views petroleum as an outdated and harmful source of energy. A shift in long-established revenue resources and economic paradigms requires a fundamental shift in local workforce skill sets and proficiencies with modern technologies. As other nations are slow to adjust to climate change and other geo-economic shifts, Saudi Arabia is poised to exemplify to the rest of the world how governments can leverage policy reform to enhance the lives of people both inside and outside the country's borders.2 Accommodating a Complex Global Economy   Saudi Vision 2030 will have a profound impact on rapidly growing economies, such as India, that seek to leverage digital transformation while implementing innovative domestic and workforce policies. In fact, the fate of Saudi Arabia and India are becoming increasingly intertwined, as India — unlike many western economies — requires more oil to empower its robust economic rise. Industrialized markets, in areas such as Europe and the United States, are seeking greener alternatives and more electric vehicles for transportation demands, but India remains heavily dependent on fossil fuels. By 2040, India will need to process up to 10 million barrels of crude oil every day to support its expanding economy and progressively urbanized populations.3 Saudi Arabia, a nation that already has a few notable government policies elevating the standard of living for its citizens (such as offering free college education to all citizens), is further internationalizing its economy by prioritizing privatization. The 2030 plan encourages financial institutions to promote private sector growth, marking a significant development in how the country is aligning its domestic workforces to compete in a globalized economy. The focus on increasing privatization and other non-oil industries — such as construction, finance, healthcare, retail and religious tourism — will create new opportunities for Saudi businesses and entrepreneurs.4 Creating a Future Through Indigenous Resources   Saudi Vision 2030 addresses many of the local, cultural challenges facing the nation, such as the role of women in the workforce and society, the impact of digital transformation and automation, and the need to modernize the sensibilities of Saudi businesses. Allowing women to drive and granting them greater access to economic prosperity — with the goal of increasing women's participation in the workforce from 22% to 30% — has generated positive responses with global investors. The 2030 plan also prioritizes domestic issues and the overall health of its citizens, with the stated objective of raising the average life expectancy from 74 to 80 years and aggressively promoting daily exercise and healthier lifestyles for all Saudi citizens.5 The Saudi government also seeks to bring its society into the digital age by implementing more e-government services that will connect citizens to resources through smartphones, data-centric operations and other technologies. This push will also drive human capital out of government jobs and into the private sector. According to the Mercer Global Talent Trends 2019 report, companies in countries such as India, Brazil, and Japan will experience a 70% increase in automation, boosting their need — like Saudi Arabia — to find new roles and professional development opportunities for workers. The 2030 plan offers an ambitious vision for the nation's indigenous resources. Empowering women and integrating modern technologies throughout its economy and government are just part of this comprehensive strategy. By inviting the global economy to invest in its progressive financial mechanisms and bolster tourism through campaigns highlighting the nation's history, Saudi Arabia is poised to lead its people, and the world, into a future forever defined by a new, modern view of the future. Will it work? The world will know in 2030. Sources: 1. Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. "Saudi Census: The Total Population." General Authority for Statistics, Accessed 11 July 2019,https://www.stats.gov.sa/en/node. 2. Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud. "Vision 2030." Vision 2030, 9 May. 2019, https://vision2030.gov.sa/en. 3. Critchlow, Andrew. "India is too important for oil titan Saudi to ignore." S&P Global Platts, 6 Mar. 2019, https://blogs.platts.com/2019/03/06/india-important-oil-saudi/. 4. Nuruzzaman, Mohammed. "Saudi Arabia's 'Vision 2030': Will It Save Or Sink the Middle East?" E-International Relations, 10 Jul. 2018, https://www.e-ir.info/2018/07/10/saudi-arabias-vision-2030-will-it-save-or-sink-the-middle-east/. 5. "Saudi Arabia Vision — Goals and Objectives." GO-Gulf, 14 Jul. 2016,https://www.go-gulf.com/blog/saudi-arabia-vision-2030/.

Health

small-tiles Patrick Hyland, PhD | 17 Oct 2019

Feeling stressed by your management responsibilities? If so, you're not alone. In our latest norms, we found that just 67% of leaders and managers think the level of stress they experience at work is manageable; the other third was unsure or overwhelmed. A similar percentage said they struggle to maintain work-life balance. Just half of leaders and managers feel they have enough time to do a quality job, and only 48% feel they can detach from work. These results suggest that anywhere from a third to a half of leaders and managers are struggling to cope with the challenges of their job. When confronted with statistics like these, some just shrug and sigh: "Stress is part of the job, isn't it?" Based on a growing body of research, that's a dangerously defeatist perspective. Aside from the health risks associated with stress, there are a number of dysfunctional workplace dynamics that can emerge when leaders feel rundown, exhausted or emotionally drained. Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D., for example, has found that negative emotions can trap people in a flight, fight or freeze mindset that limits their ability to think creatively and develop innovative solutions. Janne Skakon and colleagues1 have found that the way leaders cope with their stress trickles down, impacting their employees' own work experience and stress levels. And at Mercer|Sirota, we've found that overwhelmed managers are significantly less likely to recognize and praise their direct reports. If you're chronically stressed at work, it's time to stop buying into the myth that leaders and managers must be selfless martyrs. You're putting your own health and well-being, along with your team's effectiveness and engagement, at risk. Instead of working yourself to exhaustion, start developing a self-care strategy to manage the demands of your job. Here are four steps to consider: 1. Recognize the Warning Signs   Burnout — a state of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion often accompanied by self-doubt and cynicism — is a serious issue. Researchers have found prolonged periods of burnout can lead to a number of physical and mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, heart disease, high cholesterol, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Burnout can manifest itself in a number of ways, including increased irritability, decreased motivation, changes in eating or sleeping habits, or unexplainable aches and pains. 2. Rest and Recover   If you find you are experiencing burnout, you need to take immediate steps to get help. Start by telling someone what you are experiencing. Tell your boss, an HR business partner or a colleague. If you don't feel comfortable telling someone at work, then (a) realize you may be working in a toxic organization2 that is not healthy for you and (b) be sure to tell your family, friends or your doctor. If you remain silent, your exhaustion could lead to isolation and compound your problems. After you have shared your concerns, start finding ways to detach from work. Stop checking email the moment you wake up. Skip unnecessary meetings. Lighten your load. Take a mental health day. If you can reduce your hours or take a vacation, do so. Find ways to rest and reset so you can recover. 3. Reflect and Reorient   After you've gained some distance from your experience, it's time to start identifying the factors that led to your burnout. Start by reflecting on the timeline of events. When did your stress levels first start to rise? What was going on at work? Outside of work? Have you had this experience before, or is this the first time you've experienced burnout? Next, reflect on the nature of your stress. As you've probably heard, stress is not always bad. Researchers have found that challenge stress — the stress associated with achieving an important goal — is positively related to job satisfaction. Hindrance stress — the stress associated with barriers that prevent us from getting work done — is negatively related with job satisfaction. If you've had a burnout experience, you've probably been dealing with a lot of hindrance stress. With that in mind, think about the way work gets done in your organization. Some experts argue that burnout is the result of working in a dysfunctional organization. Finally, consider your own personality, values and attitudes toward work, your organization and your job. Researchers have found that people with certain personality traits are more prone to burnout.3 Through these reflections, your goal is to learn from your experience and gain insights that will prevent future episodes of burnout. 4. Rebuild a More Resilient You   If you have gone through burnout, the good news is this: you can use this experience to become a stronger, wiser and more resilient person. But that will require intentional effort on your part and a commitment to practicing self-care. As you design your own self-care plan, realize that multiple pathways exist. Start by rethinking your approach to your job; you will probably need to change some of your workday habits. Your physical health is critical: researchers have found that leaders and managers are more effective when they are eating right, sleeping well and getting exercise. Your mental perspective is also important: Stanford psychologist Alia Crum has argued that stress can be good for leaders if they know how to manage it. Be sure to consider your emotional response to the vicissitudes of work and life: research suggests that psychological flexibility and emotional agility can make you a more effective leader.4 And as you build your self-care plan, be sure to take a holistic approach, considering all aspects of who you are and what's important to you: research shows that your spiritual life — those aspects of your life that provide a sense of meaning, purpose and coherence — can help increase your resilience. As you consider these four steps, remember this: if you're not taking care of yourself, you're not going to be able to take care of your team — at least not for the long haul. At some point, your patience, your health, your energy, or your effectiveness is going to give. Without some type of self-care strategy, you're doing yourself — and the people who depend on you — a disservice. Sources: 1. Skakon, Janne; Nielsen, Karina; Borg, Vilhelm; Guzman, Jaime. "Are Leaders' Well-being, Behaviours and Style Associated with the Affective Well-being of Their Employees? A Systematic Review of Three Decades of Research." An International Journal of Work, Health & Organisations, Volume 24, Issue 2, 2010,https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02678373.2010.495262. 2. Appelbaum, Steven and Roy-Girard, David. "Toxins in the Workplace: Affect on Organizations and Employees." Corporate Governance International Journal of Business in Society, 2007,https://www.researchgate.net/publication/242349375_Toxins_in_the_workplace_Affect_on_organizations_and_employees. 3. Scott, Elizabeth. "Traits and Attitudes That Increase Burnout Risk." Very Well Mind, May 20, 2019,https://www.verywellmind.com/mental-burnout-personality-traits-3144514. 4. Kashdana, Todd B. and Rottenberg, Jonathan. "Psychological Flexibility as a Fundamental Aspect of Health." Elsevier, Volume 30, Issue 7, November 2010,https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0272735810000413?via%3Dihub.

Health

small-tiles Dr. Avneet Kaur | 03 Oct 2019

The use of on-site clinics has been growing in recent years, with businesses realizing the potential for giving access to quality and timely care to contribute to an increase in productivity, reduce absenteeism and improve employee health. But, are you reaping the full benefits of your on-site clinics? Or, are you just focused on meeting legislative requirements? There are three key things you can do to unlock the full potential of your on-site clinics. In a recent Worksite Medical Clinics Survey, employers with on-site clinics saw a return on investment (ROI) of 1.5 or higher. If you're not seeing similar returns, it may be because your on-site clinic isn't moving beyond basic requirements. Create a Patient-centered Clinic   Ensure the services offered by the clinic are suited to your employees. This will eliminate unnecessary spend on under-utilized services and steer you toward investments that will bring a greater sense of satisfaction, positive health outcomes for your employees and, consequently, a positive impact on your bottom line. Understand what your employee population looks like — in terms of age, gender and nature of work — as this will play a large role in understanding what type of health and social care services, as well as specialists, are needed. In addition to demographic information, it's critical to understand the health needs of your employees — for instance, which common illnesses are prevalent and need to be better managed and which key lifestyle risks need to be averted through education or preventative services. Communicate the Value   The adage of "if you build it, they will come" might not be the best way to yield the desired ROI in this case. It's important to shape communications around services offered on-site by highlighting the value they bring to employees: convenience and easy access to care, coordination and orientation toward quality providers, early detection of illnesses, etc. Effective communication will bring increased utilization and early detection, maximizing your investment as an employer while also contributing to the well-being of your employees. On-site Clinic: The Wellness Hub   When on-site clinics are designed and managed correctly, there's a high return for both employer and employee. Well-designed clinics can play a real gatekeeping role, coordinating employee pathways toward high quality providers and wellness vendors. They can also directly provide prevention and employee education services, which are key to avoid acute and costly care events. At Mercer, we help clients implement the 4-C model of effective on-site clinic management. This extends the value of your clinic from meeting legislative requirements to allowing employers to deliver quality health services that focus on value to the employee. To maximize your on-site clinic, reach out to us today.

Editors' Picks

Innovation

Pivot to Growth: How AI Is Democratizing the Future of Work
Gail Evans | 25 Jul 2019

The power of AI will shape the future of work and optimize productivity. As digital transformation continues to accelerate business operations, our work and personal schedules are becoming increasingly integrated. Never before have parents, professionals and entire communities of people been forced to harmonize such escalating demands on their work and private lives. Orchestrating the responsibilities of modern life can feel daunting. Raising healthy and well-adjusted children, supporting a struggling partner or friend, impressing your boss and coworkers, and not purchasing those chocolate chip cookies (who has time for dinner?) can overwhelm the human soul. Thankfully, AI platforms are not only changing how professionals organize information and interact with data, but how they navigate the challenges of everyday life. Introducing Warren   Warren, Mercer consulting's AI digital assistant, is a sophisticated AI platform designed to leverage real-time data with learned patterns to enhance workforce productivity. It works 24/7 to ensure your personal and professional obligations are well organized and your career trajectory is moving forward. It does this by contextualizing data from your past, present and future and streamlining your responsibilities and schedule in ways that encourage better decision making. In other words, Warren is your dedicated personal coach, confidant and teammate — the ultimate convergence of people and technology. Every day, people struggle to maximize the value of their time. Too often, our work is undermined by inferior data that results in poor choices, inefficient scheduling and time-consuming distractions. Many people lack the time or resources to adjust to inevitable changes in our pressing daily priorities. Warren is here to help people focus on what is most important, when it's most important. It's less about how tech informs us and more about building a hybrid existence of machines and people working together. You bring the human element to the relationship with your creativity, strategic thinking and empathy, and Warren augments your human capabilities by suggesting recommendations based on designated goals and targets. It then makes adjustments according to previous conversations with you. All professionals, not just those at the top of the hierarchy, deserve a personal assistant to help clear their headspace. This democratization of the workforce due to AI will revolutionize how ideas come to fruition and businesses grow. The days of compartmentalizing your personal and professional lives are gone. Warren allows you to prioritize and immediately address anything life throws at you: Your child's school principal expects you to answer the phone at 1 p.m. on a Tuesday, and your boss emails you at 8 p.m. on Thursday night anticipating a quick reply. No problem. Warren is here to help you thrive in a world that demands so much of your time, energy and sanity. Warren will take it from here: No, your child does not have a peanut allergy. Yes, you have briefed the team about the sales meeting and printed the glossy reports for each stakeholder. Done and done. Modern life is a fully integrated experience without boundaries. Welcome to the new normal. Work at the Speed of AI   Working at the speed of AI means never having to ask yourself if you left the stove on, the location of the room for your 9 a.m. meeting or the accuracy of the data in the graph illustrating last quarter's output numbers. Forget reminders taped to your computer, those awkward moments in conference rooms when your PowerPoint presentation won't load and having to memorize yet another password. Say goodbye to staring into your glass of red wine late at night and wondering if you're a good parent. You are because Warren reminded you not to schedule that important call with the Hong Kong office during your daughter's debut as the Cheshire Cat in her school's rendition of "Alice in Wonderland." Warren recognizes your human idiosyncrasies and fallibilities. It fact checks and performs quality control for each step of your busy day. Every aspect of your professional life will be optimized through AI technology, which consequently, will profoundly increase the quality and enjoyment of your personal life, too. By predicting and mitigating our own very human mistakes and lapses in judgement, AI can make the human experience more meaningful, rewarding and impactful. Just as email, instant messaging and in-person video calling has changed the way people communicate with others, Warren is changing the way people communicate with themselves, their work duties and their entire careers. An Era of Democratized AI   As businesses pivot to growth, people will increasingly have the freedom to think beyond the minutia of day-to-day obligations and dedicate that found time, brain space and capacity to keep looking and moving forward. In the workplace, Warren empowers change at every level of an organization, which will forever alter the dynamics of influence and flow of ideas. No longer will the big ideas and future-thinking changes come from the top down. From the CEO, the summer intern and the stately boardroom to the bustling mailroom, groundbreaking solutions and cutting-edge revelations will arise from everywhere. Through the democratization of AI, the people closest to the products, solutions and services will finally have the necessary time and capacity to think through improvements and invent the next best practice or idea. AI will inspire employees at every level to think smarter and faster, drive game-changing strategies and identify new ways to co-create and innovate. Warren and other AI technologies will enable employees — regardless of title, level or rank — to grow personally and professionally. The future of work, much like in the past, will be defined by access to information and opportunities, as well as the integration of technology and human potential. AI now presents businesses with a universe of unprecedented possibilities, and employers must do everything they can to empower their people to compete in the future and continue to provide value to the company. Warren is AI's version of a dedicated collaborator who barely sleeps, only deals with facts and accurate data, and will never steal your lunch from the refrigerator. Finally, Warren is a colleague for a new era of people, technology and the symbiotic workforce.

Innovation

Navigating the New Era of Automation
André Maxnuk | 25 Jul 2019

Artificial intelligence (AI) and automation are global main-stage players in many industries, with seemingly limitless opportunities. You can have your food made by robots, or even let your car do the driving for you — but what's next?1 This upward trend has been far-reaching, disrupting the ways certain industries operate and shifting how employers hire. With no slowdown in sight, let's explore what's in store for businesses navigating this new era. Automating Jobs in Key Industries   Automating work isn't a one-size-fits-all approach. Certain industries, firms and jobs are more likely to be impacted than others. For instance, manufacturers have long used this approach and tend to seize automatable opportunities whenever possible. Take the South Korean Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy for example, which has been investing money into the development of industrial automation for the past few years and shows no sign of stopping.2 This is just one country, but it represents the direction of the industry and process overall — the goal is to keep costs low while maintaining efficiency. The auto industry has seen similar gains within the manufacturing process, as well as in the production of self-driving vehicles. While there have been fits and starts with this tech, The Verge notes that it's being continuously refined and may soon change automobile production entirely.3 While these industries serve as golden examples of what AI and automation can do, others struggle with implementing key functions of this tech. Hospitality, food service and health care all exemplify this lag: These industries are heavily driven by labor, which makes automating operations tricky. While there are opportunities to embed technology to scale services, not every customer in these industries is ready to have their service automated, as aptly noted in a recent CNN news story.4 Measuring the Impact on Economies and Employment   The idea that artificial intelligence will eliminate jobs is a real fear for workers. It echoes concerns previously heightened in the U.S. in the 1960s regarding the bump in automated processes and unemployment, as MIT highlights.5 However, Lyndon B. Johnson said it best: "The basic fact is that technology eliminates jobs, not work." This distinction and how employers handle role changes is what will make or break many organizations shifting to automated operations. For developing economies, automating certain jobs could create better opportunities by eliminating dangerous roles or roles that rely too heavily on physical labor. While it may cause some degree of unemployment during the short-term transition, it's likely to open opportunities for other safer, more satisfying jobs for those affected individuals. It all comes down to a shift in workplace skills. Research shows that the future skills of the workforce should prioritize leadership and other soft skills to remain relevant and competitive. In a recent interview, the CEO of LinkedIn explained the most important skills of the future aren't coding or technical; they're soft skills, such as communication and collaboration, and the workforce will need to readily prioritize these as automated operations grow.6 Aging in an Automated World   The intersection of an aging workforce and increasing automation is a very real threat to today's workers. Those with 30 or 40 years of experience are more likely to be doing tasks that can be automated — a fact that is only more troubling when examined on a global scale. In certain areas, such as Vietnam and China, between 69% and 76% of tasks managed by older workers are at risk of becoming automated. For reference, in the U.S., jobs held by more senior workers are believed to be about 52% automatable. What's also potentially worrisome is that older populations of workers in areas, such as Japan, are growing rapidly, creating a spiraling effect. The good news is employers are responding by eliminating forced retirement and looking for additional options to alleviate this pressure. Automation is bringing an incredible amount of positive opportunities into the workplace, but it's important not to lose sight of those who may be negatively impacted. Whether that means prioritizing training in soft skills to ensure a more "future-proof" workforce or looking for more appropriate ways to leverage automated work in highly manual jobs and industries, the truth is this trend isn't going away. Competition and globalization will continue to push employers to find new, creative ways to automate processes, but those who seek visionary ways to reshape their workforce around this technology will have the real competitive edge. Sources: 1 Constine, Josh, "Taste test: Burger robot startup Creator opens first restaurant," Tech Crunch, June 21, 2018, https://techcrunch.com/2018/06/21/creator-hamburger-robot/. 2 Demaitre, Eugene, "South Korea Spends $14.8M to Replace Chinese Robotics Components," Robotics Business Review, October 20, 2015, https://www.roboticsbusinessreview.com/manufacturing/south-korea-spends-148m-to-replace-chinese-robotics-components/ 3 Statt, Nick, "New documentary Autonomy makes the convincing case that self-driving cars will change everything," The Verge, March 13, 2019, https://www.theverge.com/2019/3/13/18262364/autonomy-film-review-self-driving-cars-malcolm-gladwell-documentary-sxsw-2019. 4 Andone, Dakin and Moshtaghian, Artemis, "A doctor in California appeared via video link to tell a patient he was going to die. The man's family is upset," CNN, March 10, 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2019/03/10/health/patient-dies-robot-doctor/index.html. 5 Autor, David H., "Why Are There Still So Many Jobs? The History and Future of Workplace Automation," MIT: Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 29, Issue 3, summer 2015, https://economics.mit.edu/files/11563. 6 Umoh, Ruth, "The CEO of LinkedIn shares the No. 1 job skill American employees are lacking," CNBC, April 26, 2018,https://www.cnbc.com/2018/04/26/linkedin-ceo-the-no-1-job-skill-american-employees-lack.html.

Retire

Asia Must Navigate Pensions Crunch
David Anderson | 03 Apr 2019

Asian pension systems are facing major challenges. The region is experiencing seismic demographic changes, with rapidly aging populations and declining birthrates. But investment returns are relatively low due to geopolitical uncertainty and minimal interest rates. With the region having relatively few robust retirement systems, many Asian countries will struggle to provide adequate pensions. Governments need to take positive action now to reduce financial pressures and avoid intergenerational conflicts between the young and old. Life expectancy at birth in the region has increased by seven to 14 years in most countries during the last 40 years, according to the 2018 Melbourne Mercer Global Pension Index (MMGPI), which ranks pension systems round the world on adequacy, sustainability and integrity. This is an average of one additional year every four years. The increased life expectancy of a 65-year-old over the last 40 years has ranged from 1.7 years in Indonesia to 8.1 years in Singapore. Much of the rest of the world is facing similar challenges relating to aging populations, and nations are pursuing similar policy reforms. These include raising pension ages, encouraging people to work longer, increasing the funding levels set aside for retirement and reducing the amount of money people can take out of their pension accounts before they reach retirement age. The 2018 MMGPI findings pose the fundamental question: What reforms can Asian governments implement to improve the long-term outcomes of their retirement income systems? The natural starting place to create a world-class pension system is ensuring the right balance between adequacy and sustainability. A system providing generous benefits in the short-term is unlikely to be sustainable, while a system that's sustainable over many years usually provides modest benefits. Without changes to retirement ages and eligibility ages to access social security and private pensions, the pressure on retirement systems will increase, which could threaten the financial security provided to the elderly. Increased workforce participation by women and older workers can improve adequacy and sustainability. Japan, China and South Korea rank near the bottom of the Mercer index. Their pension systems do not represent a sustainable model to support the retirement of current and future generations. If left unchanged, these countries will suffer social conflicts, since pension benefits will not be distributed equally between generations. Japan, for instance, is taking baby steps to reform its pension system by gradually raising the mandatory retirement age of some 3.4 million civil servants to 65 from the current 60 years of age. Japanese retirees can now choose to start receiving their pensions at any point between the ages of 60 and 70, with greater monthly payments offered to those who start at age 65 or older. Having the world's highest life expectancy and lowest birthrate, Japan's population is expected to shrink. This challenging situation is already contributing to skill shortages, which will further impact Japan's shrinking tax revenue base. The Japanese government could improve its pension system by encouraging higher levels of household savings and continuing to increase the level of state pension coverage, since 49 percent of the working age population is not covered by private pension plans. Introducing a requirement that part of the retirement benefit must be taken as an income stream and not a lump sum will improve the overall sustainability of the social security system — as would reducing government debt as a percentage of gross domestic product, as this improves the likelihood that the current level of pension payments can be maintained. China faces different issues. China's unique pension system comprises various plans for urban and rural populations, as well as for rural migrants and public sector workers. The urban and rural systems have a pay-as-you-go basic pension consisting of a pooled account (from employer contributions or government expenditure) and funded individual accounts (from employee contributions). Supplementary plans are also provided by some employers, particularly in urban areas. The Chinese pension system could be improved by increasing the use of workers' contributions to pensions to enhance the overall retirement protection of workers and increasing minimum support for the poorest retirees. A requirement that part of the supplementary retirement benefit must be taken as an income stream should be introduced, as well. More investment options should be offered to pension holders to permit a greater exposure to growth assets, while pension plans should improve their communications with members. Hong Kong should consider introducing tax incentives to encourage voluntary member contributions, thus increasing retirement savings. Hong Kong should also require that part of the retirement benefit be taken as an income stream. Older workers should be retained in the labor market as life expectancies rise. South Korea suffers from one of the weakest pension systems for the poor when expressed as a percentage of the average wage at just six percent. Its system would benefit by improving the level of support provided to the poorest pensioners, introducing a requirement that part of the retirement benefit from private pension arrangements be taken as an income stream and increasing the overall level of contributions. Singapore's well-structured pension system is ranked top in the region and has seen improvements in sustainability. Its retirement system, the Central Provident Fund, provides flexibility to its members, who include all employed Singaporean residents and permanent residents. But more can be done. Barriers to establishing tax-approved group corporate retirement plans should be reduced, and the CPF should also be opened to temporary nonresident workers who comprise more than a third of the labor force. The age that CPF members can access their savings should be raised, as well. Since pension systems are an intergenerational issue, they require a long-term perspective. Pension systems, which are one of the largest institutional investors in any market, should increasingly recognize the importance of acting as good stewards of the capital entrusted to them, including managing risks, such as climate change. With Asia's aging populations staying productive well into their 70s and even 80s, it is critical to improve the provision of adequate and sustainable retirement income. Raising the retirement age, expanding the coverage of private pensions for workers and encouraging financial planning and early savings should be the focus of employers and policy makers. Article originally published in Nikkei Asian Review.

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