Career + Invest

Employee Financial Wellness Trends: What to Watch

19 August, 2019
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"When implemented properly, financial wellness solutions can be a rising tide that lifts all boats—benefiting both employees and the company."

Learn about the latest employee financial wellness trends emerging in 2019.

Employees and employers alike can agree on at least one value: financial security.

Finances can affect every function of a company and, for the individual, their personal life. When employees face a difficult financial situation, it can impede on job satisfaction, attitude and performance. Financially stressed workers miss more work and incur higher healthcare costs than their peers. These factors inevitably take a toll on a company’s employee engagement levelsand eventually the bottom line—especially if financial hardship impacts multiple employees.

At the same time, HR professionals know that people don’t just work for the paycheck and that increasing salary alone won’t necessarily boost job satisfaction. Workers also strive for positive company culture, flexible scheduling, recognition, L&D opportunities, retirement plans, and other benefits. Naturally, apart from the salary figure, employees want to work for a company that values them and offers a bright future.

As global unemployment reaches its lowest point in 40 years and we enter an employment economy, employers are facing an increasingly competitive hiring landscape where the benefits package is an increasingly important tool for attracting and retaining top talent. One benefit that continues to gain traction is a structured financial wellness program.

With financial wellness solutions, employees receive financial education through courses on goal planning, basic financial literacy, budgeting, debt management and alleviating financial stress. The aim of a financial wellness program is to guide employees towards actions that help them reach goals for every stage of their financial lives, such as saving for a house, a car, college, or retirement. Mercer’s Healthy Wealthy and Work-wise report found employees (as well as employers) report higher satisfaction with their benefit plans when financial wellness is offered. Furthermore, companies report up to a 3-to-1 return on their financial wellness investment.

Employees are worried about their finances
 

For many employees, money is the number one source of stress. Mercer’s Inside Employees Minds report asked 3,000 workers questions about the extent to which financial stress affected their work, finding that 62% of those who are financially challenged identify being able to pay monthly expenses as their biggest financial concern—even among people with an annual household income of $100,000 or more.

Financial stress varies among demographics. Young adults are burdened with high levels of debt, especially with educated-related expenses for university. Families can struggle to meet financial goals due to cash flow issues or unexpected expenses. Even older adults often carry financial stress from caring for aging parents or children who have moved back home. Single parents have their own set of financial stressors. Therefore, when designing a financial wellness program, it is important to consider the entire scope of your workforce and the various financial lives they may lead.

Financial wellness trends to have on your radar
 

For all the struggles brought on by financial hardship, there is hope that financial wellness programs can remedy the situation to the benefit of both employees and employers. A Gallup poll found financial wellness is closely linked with positive behavioral changes and stronger relationships, regardless of income levels.

By implementing financial wellness programs, employers also enjoy the benefit of having a happier, healthier and more productive workforce. A joint study from Morgan Stanley and the Financial Health Network found that 75% of employees said a financial wellness program is an important benefit and 60% said they would be more inclined to stay at a company that offered financial wellness solutions.

While employers are recognizing the importance of combating financial stress among employees, it appears they may need to improve these efforts to help employees. Cigna’s global well-being survey of employees in Asia Pacific, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and North America found that 87% of employees are stressed at work—with personal finances being the top stressor—and 38% claim no stress management support is provided at all. While 46% of employees report they receive support from their employer, only 28% feel this support is adequate.

It’s time to raise the bar on financial wellness benefits. Here are some emerging trends and strategies companies are considering so they can maximize employee financial wellness solutions and stand out in the marketplace.

1.  Users are demanding technology-driven solutions for personalization.

For financial planning solutions, users want a modern, simple interface that offers a comprehensive view of their financial situation and outlines a guided, personalized path to reaching their financial goals and staying accountable.

According to a recent Forrester study, customers of wealth management firms are demanding more functionality and digitalization with financial planning solutions. This demand is making features like account aggregation, personalized content delivery and accountability triggers standard elements for a successful financial wellness program. “Help me help myself” tools are being personalized for the user with finance snapshots, budget planners and loan repayment calculators.

Notably, a study from Morgan Stanley and the Financial Health Network found that 42% of employees said they feel inadequately informed about the benefits and programs their employer offers. Of the employees who do not use all of the benefits, many said they would be more apt to use them if they were explained more clearly and made easier to access. According to Thompsons Online Benefits Watch, 70% of employees want mobile access to their benefits packages but only 51% of employers are offering it.

These gaps mean there is an opportunity for companies to elevate their financial wellness programs and make them more usable and appealing to employees. Employers should consider informing employees about benefits through live webinars, social media or SMS alerts. The program should also be fully accessible by mobile and offer online tools that personalize the user experience.

2.  Data analytics & digital technology are personalizing financial wellness programs.

Data analytics is shaping financial wellness programs to provide the level of personalization employees have come to expect in the digital age. These data analytics can help differentiate between types and categories of employees, allowing programs to be personalized for live events and stages.

Just as online stores use aggregated consumer preference and demographic data to make recommendations and suggestions, financial wellness platforms are beginning to employ data analytics and algorithms to determine whether an employee is making progress or might need some extra assistance to stay on track.

Some programs employ data analytics to frame an employees’ savings and spending habits and compare them to their peers. These programs can also analyze behaviors and provide scores to help employees see if they are improving on their savings or debt managements.

Some programs can also offer employers the ability to create targeted marketing campaigns that focus on personal milestones for employees, such as buying a new car or getting married. These milestones can be used to inspire specific savings behaviors and spending habits, which might mean recommending homeowners insurance or opening an education savings account.

Data analytics can also be used to build each employee a profile, which can then be supported by customized self-service tools to help employees get answers to specific questions and better plan for possible life changes. For example, with their profile input and all their financial information accounted for, employees can determine just how much additional life insurance they might need to purchase if they have a child. Without data analytics, the manual process of calculating this figure would be tedious, time consuming and require a potentially costly meeting with a financial advisor.

On the employer side, data can be collected to determine how well the financial wellness program is performing. This data can help drive the program to offer new components and functions in ways that better meet the needs of employees.

3.  Employees want actual help not hype.

As financial wellness programs continue to shape the benefits ecosystem, more employees are expecting that their employers will care about their financial security beyond just signing their paycheck. According to Thompsons Online Benefits Watch, 79% of employees trust their employers to deliver sound advice on planning, saving and investing. Employers are expected to deliver real, actionable ways to help employees improve upon their financial situation.

A study from Merrill Lynch found a sharp disconnect in what employees want to have and what employers are offering in financial wellness programs. For example, employees generally want to work on meeting end goals, and they’d prefer to focus on one goal at a time. But employers are taking a heavy approach, emphasizing a comprehensive approach to controlling overall finances.

While the comprehensive strategy of employers is certainly well-intentioned, it has a tendency to overwhelm users. Financial planning can be intimidating, especially for those in stressful situations. To counter this, companies in the wellness space are designing programs from the employee perspective to offer a holistic approach. Holistic programs, which integrate financial health with mental and physical health, can help employees open their financial “junk drawer” and make connections between the various elements of financial health and life—from saving for a wedding, buying a home, managing loan debt, etc.

Well-designed programs will demystify the topic of financial wellness rather than scare employees away with an onslaught of complex information and suggestions for services and financial products they don’t understand.

4.  Building the business case for financial wellness programs: engagement, productivity & success.

Whether management wants to admit it or not, employees are bringing financial stress to work and it’s impacting the company’s bottom line. In a survey from the Society for Human Resource Management, 83% of respondents reported that personal financial challenges had at least some effect on their overall performance at work in the past year. This disengagement means big losses for businesses. Workforce stress is potentially costing companies more than $5 million a year. 

Because of the business losses incurred, supporting employees’ financial wellness is becoming a major priority for organizations and the trend is catching on. Research from GuideSpark found that financial wellness is the third most important type of wellness program to employees, at 82%, behind stress management (86%) and physical fitness (85%).

The results of employee wellness programs are promising. According to Employee Benefit News, participants in financial wellness programs demonstrate progress in their finances. The percentage of participants feeling “highly stressed” about personal finances fell from 52.4% to 19.2% after the completion of a financial wellness program. Similarly, 56% of participants said they believe they’re in a better position to manage their monthly cash flow after the completion of a financial wellness program.

5.  An increased focus on student loan repayment & affordable education.

In the HR industry, employee development has become an impetus for employee engagement. But the truth is that for many employees, their past continues to weigh them down. Higher education costs are contributing to unprecedented student loan debt challenges in both developed and developing countries. As university tuition costs continue to rise, student loan debts have reached concerning record levels for graduates. The World Bank reports that developing countries face greater higher-education challenges than developed countries.

Enormous debt and high tuition costs are setting back many employees before they have the chance to get ahead, which is widening the talent gap and thinning talent pools for companies. Amid rising tuition and mounting debt, HR professionals owe it to companies and employees to offer solutions to the challenges they both face. This can be done through loan repayment education that helps employees strategize to pay off loans as quickly as possible. Taking it a step further, some HR departments may be able to convince companies to offer loan repayment and tuition reimbursement programs.

When employees are worried about finances, they may have to switch jobs and find an employer willing to give them the tools and monetary compensation they need. Offering loan repayment advice or support offers employees a solution to a personal problem they face. They will likely become more invested in the company, which can translate to boosted morale and productivity across the company’s workforce.

Tuition reimbursement and the encouragement of further education can also go a long way in helping companies thrive in the digital transformation and foster a culture of lifelong learning. Amid digitalization, the workforce is shifting from fixed job titles and detailed job descriptions to ever-revolving roles. At the current pace of technology growth, chances are that many of today’s prized technical skills will be obsolete within a few short years.

As the skill gap grows, companies won’t have the luxury of easily recruiting new hires. They will instead need to focus on upskilling and recruiting lifelong learners who have a passion for integrating new technology into business operations. Offering tuition reimbursement or education planning advice will help attract and develop a talented workforce for the digital age.

People around the world are experiencing record amounts of stress, according to Gallup’s Annual Global Emotions Report, and finances are certainly among the greatest stressors. As the stress escalates, more companies will find their employees’ personal bottom lines eroding the company’s bottom line. Without intervention, employees’ financial stress will rise, and companies will suffer drops in productivity, increased absenteeism, and low engagement levels.

When implemented properly, financial wellness solutions can be a rising tide that lifts all boats—benefiting both employees and the company. The HR department is in a unique position to make this connection, sending the message that employees and companies are in this together.

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Nancy Mann Jackson | 30 Jan 2020

Blockchain technology is not just for high-tech industries; it's gradually becoming an important part of even the most traditional professions, including agriculture. For example, India's Ministry of Commerce and Industry recently announced a blockchain-based e-marketplace for coffee producers. The marketplace is helping bridge the gap between coffee growers and buyers, allowing farmers to drastically increase their income. This initiative reflects a global trend of merging technological advances with agriculture. Blockchain Is Boosting India's Coffee Producers   Coffee produced in India is a premium product, produced by farmers who grow their beans under shade, hand pick them and dry them in the sun. The coffee is sold at premium prices around the world, but the farmers receive only a small portion of the profits, because there are many layers of buying and selling between the grower and the final consumer. The new blockchain-based marketplace app for trading Indian coffee brings growers closer to their ultimate customers, helping them earn fair pay and provide reliable traceability that allows consumers to trace their coffee from bean to cup. For customers, the ability to track the journey of the product they are buying can build trust. From the business perspective, that traceability can result in faster and more accurate recalls, reducing risk of food poisoning. By using the online marketplace, growers no longer have to depend on intermediaries. They can interact directly with buyers and earn fair prices for their products. Exporters can also use the online marketplace to quickly find reliable suppliers and traceable coffee products to meet their needs. When the Indian Coffee Board, a division of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, introduced the e-marketplace in March 2019, a group of about 20 coffee farmers, exporters, importers, roasters and retailers were already registered on the platform from India and abroad.1 From a user perspective, the platform is easy to use. Coffee farmers can log their product credentials, including their relevant certificates, growing location and elevation, details about the crop and other information. For each lot of coffee sold on the marketplace, the system creates a block. That block and its credentials are then stored on the blockchain throughout its journey and are unalterable, creating a record known as a blockchain ledger. A blockchain ledger is useful for all types of agricultural products because of its ability to record and update the status of crops — from planting and harvesting to storage and delivery. A secure, immutable ledger ensures that large agricultural operators never lose a load and that consumers can access the history and details of their food's background. Agricultural Uses of Blockchain Are Expanding Globally   India isn't the only place where the benefits of blockchain technology are having a positive impact on agriculture. France and Ethiopia have also instituted blockchain marketplaces for coffee, and similar marketplaces are operating or under development around the world for other crops and agricultural products. In China, for instance, e-commerce platform JD.com traces the production, selling and delivery process for beef raised in Inner Mongolia and purchased by customers in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. By scanning a QR code, a consumer or retailer can see the size and age of the cow, its diet, when it was slaughtered, when the meat was packaged and what the results of the food safety tests were. Another Chinese company uses ankle bracelets on chickens to record the details of each chicken's life using blockchain, providing assurance to consumers that the free-range chicken they're paying for is actually free-range.2 Analysts expect that the blockchain technology market for agriculture around the world will continue to escalate, growing 56.4% from 2018 to 2022.3 Blockchain marketplaces allow producers and buyers to view trade history, local prices and other information that allow them to negotiate prices with confidence. As food producers around the world continue adopting blockchain technology, they bring more efficiency to their supply chains, improving food safety and traceability, as well as profit margins and consumer trust. Clearly, blockchain can bring about positive change in a variety of ways, but adopting and implementing the technology is much easier said than done. In an industry like agriculture, blockchain will have to reshape a decades-old framework, and that won't happen overnight. It's up to leaders everywhere to understand the value of this technology and get their teams on board with implementing it to achieve that value — even if it means starting small. Sources: 1. "Coffee Board Activates Blockchain Based Marketplace in India." Press Information Bureau, 28 Mar. 2019, http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=189586. 2. Peters, Adele. "In China, You Can Track Your Chicken On–You Guessed It–The Blockchain." Fast Company, 12 Jan. 2018, https://www.fastcompany.com/40515999/in-china-you-can-track-your-chicken-on-you-guessed-it-the-blockchain. 3. "Global Blockchain Technology Market in the Agriculture Sector 2018-2022." Global Banking & Finance Review, 26 Sep. 2018, https://www.globalbankingandfinance.com/global-blockchain-technology-market-in-the-agriculture-sector-2018-2022-market-to-grow-at-a-cagr-of-56-4-with-agriledger-full-profile-ibm-microsoft-ripe-technology-te-food-dominating-rese/.

Jackson Kam | 30 Jan 2020

China is fostering a culture of innovation throughout its society — but most notably in its startup businesses. Multinationals can take advantage of this increased energy by investing in Chinese startups or taking a cue from how the successful ones — the "unicorns" — are meeting the demands of a growing Chinese consumer base. Multinationals must also be mindful of what Chinese workers desire most from employers, which is the ability to have a healthy work-life balance, according to Mercer's Global Talent Trends 2019 study. Currently, this is a very real challenge for employees working at tech startups. Developing a Culture of Innovation   To foster this culture of innovation within its industries, the Chinese government is making it easier for entrepreneurs to experiment and grow by implementing more "benign" business regulations. It's also ensuring that there is efficient infrastructure and local support in place.1 One sector that is particularly thriving under this new spirit is insurtech. For example: ZhongAn Online, a digital insurer backed by Ping An, Tencent and Alibaba, has launched a Software as a Service (SaaS) platform for insurance companies, giving them rapid access to ZhongAn's accumulated data on medical claims, medical insurance directories, drug prescriptions and local hospital information across the country.2 Another insurtech example is the partnership between Rui Xin Insurance Technology and China Lending, which aims to help the insurance company develop its own consumer financial platform offering China Lending's products. The two companies will also collaborate to develop more insurance products and attract more customers on both of their platforms.3 These insurtech partnerships exemplify how China is now setting the stage for experimental collaboration and innovation that challenges the status quo. Taking a Cue From Chinese Unicorns   Across many sectors, thousands of Chinese startups are disrupting industries — and stealing customers from established companies — by developing innovative business models to sell even more innovative products.4 Indeed, China has 120 successful startups, more than half of the 234 unicorns globally.5 Chinese startups are excelling because they can quickly reach scale in the large market, and they can tap a growing talent pool, particularly professionals with PhDs — twice as many as those in the U.S. They are also exhibiting a higher risk tolerance that's enabling them to conduct "fearless experimentation" to push out new products as fast as possible. With the rise of digital disruption, these unicorns are eager to take big risks and put their country back on the map as an innovator.5 How Multinationals Can Leverage This Energy   Hengyuan Zhu, associate professor and deputy chair in the Department of Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Strategy at Tsinghua University, believes that startups are successful because they are practicing "contextualized innovation." This entails collaborating with local customers within the country to make sure products meet the specific demands of those localities — and multinational companies operating in China should take a cue.6 "If they want to be successful, multinational companies will have to give more decision-making power to their local branches in China," Zhu said. "They need to do this so that they can leverage global resources, integrate into the innovation system and innovate in China for Chinese customers." An innovative workplace culture must be counterbalanced for organizations to be successful. For instance, organizations need to be willing to experiment but in a highly disciplined manner. Carefully taking this line of thought into consideration in all aspects of the workplace will ensure the success and application of a productive, innovative culture. Dealing with 996: An Unhealthy Work-Life Balance   There is a rising backlash occurring in the Chinese tech community, particularly among startups, that centers on what is known as "996.ICU." The name comes from the typical work schedule for Chinese programmers: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week.7 Some startups are forcing their workers to abide by this schedule, either explicitly or by demanding certain KPIs in an unreasonable amount of time. Others are encouraging these schedules by appealing to long-held beliefs within the Chinese culture. For example, Alibaba founder Jack Ma has stated, "No company should or can force employees into working 996 . . . But young people need to understand that happiness comes from hard work. I don't defend 996, but I pay my respect to hard workers!"7 These sentiments are contrary to what the majority of polled Chinese workers shared during the Global Talent Trends 2019 study — that the foremost condition that would help them thrive in the workplace is the ability to manage their work-life balance. This also ranks ahead of their desire to have opportunities to learn new skills and technologies and have a fun work environment. Multinationals considering investment in Chinese startups or taking cues from unicorns may consider adopting many of the attributes of those successfully innovating while fostering a healthier work-life balance for Chinese workers — which can ultimately benefit the organization's bottom line, as well. Sources: 1. Jun, Zie. "Whole-of-society effort drives technology development in China," Global Times, 25 Jun. 2019, http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1155732.shtml. 2. Fintech News Hong Kong. "ZhongAn Technology Launches AI-Powered Data Platform for China's Insurance Industry," Fintech News, 14 Aug. 2018, http://fintechnews.hk/6308/insurtech/zhongan-technology-saas-insurance-data/. 3. China Lending Corporation. "China Lending Forges Strategic Partnership with Rui Xin Insurance Technology to Develop Online Financial Services Platform," PR Newswire, 15 Jul. 2019, https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/china-lending-forges-strategic-partnership-with-rui-xin-insurance-technology-to-develop-online-financial-services-platform-300884622.html. 4. Greeven, Mark J; Yip, George S. and Wei, Wei. "Understanding China's Next Wave of Innovation," MIT Sloan Management Review, 7 Feb. 2019, https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/understanding-chinas-next-wave-of-innovation/. 5. Nheu, Christopher. "The Secret Behind How Chinese Startups are Winning," Startup Grind, 1 May 2018, https://medium.com/startup-grind/the-secret-behind-how-chinese-startups-are-winning-44876b196626. 6. Zhu, Hengyuan and Euchner, Jim. "The Evolution of China's Innovation Capability," Research-Technology Management, 10 May 2018, http://china.enrichcentres.eu/sharedResources/users/4807/The%20Evolution%20of%20China%20s%20Innovation%20Capability.pdf. 7. Liao, Rita. "China's startup ecosystem is hitting back at demand-working hours," TechCrunch, Apr. 2019, https://techcrunch.com/2019/04/12/china-996/.

Andre Maxnuk | 30 Jan 2020

The megacity will define economic growth in the coming years. Citing Monterrey and Guadalajara, Mexico, as examples, these emerging centers of business and commerce are positioned to grow quickly and possibly outpace traditional capitals of commerce. They also have the potential to learn from the mistakes of traditional big cities and engineer smart, long-term, sustainable growth. Urbanization is developing at such a rate that nearly half (47 percent) of GDP growth will come from 443 growth economy cities between 2010 and 2025, as Mercer's People First report notes. These cities are also on a trajectory to amass 1 billion new consumers and, between now and 2030, will significantly change the way people live and work. How Urbanization Changes Local Economies   While widespread adoption of the internet and interconnected technologies was predicted to enable people to live and work anywhere, it's actually had the opposite effect. Instead, more people have been drawn into cities for work. Innovative workers are seeking one another to collaborate in developing new industries in today's rapidly evolving global economy. They want an environment in which they can be more productive and more creative with like-minded peers. As all these bright minds flock to growing metropolitan areas, cities have become the crucible of collaboration. Take Guadalajara, for instance. The city's technology industry traces its roots back to the 1960s, when high-tech foreign companies looking for cheap labor moved manufacturing operations there. These companies included Kodak, Motorola, IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Siemens. Yet, when many of those operations moved to Asia in the early 2000s, the city still found a way to persevere as a hub for technology. As Andrew Selee from the Smithsonian Institution notes, "Guadalajara reinvented itself as a major center for research and development, programming, design and other high-skilled tech occupations, building on the foundation that had been laid years earlier."1 Guadalajara's highly trained engineers "inverted the model," designing components in Mexico and having them manufactured in Asia, as one engineer told Selee. Today, many Silicon Valley–based tech companies maintain research, development and programming facilities in Guadalajara, and the city — now known for its engineering talent and creativity — is home to a wide range of technology startups. How Cities Can Prepare and Respond   Rapid growth in jobs and economic opportunities is positive yet challenging for cities such as Guadalajara, also known as "Mexico's Silicon Valley." The city's population has grown to include more than 8 million people and is now the second biggest metropolitan area in Mexico, just behind Mexico City.2 The population is expected to expand even more (over 15%) in the next decade. It is also the third largest economy in Mexico, with a GDP of $81 billion.3 Comparatively, Monterrey has a population of 5 million and is the third largest metropolitan area in Mexico.2 Monterrey's population is also expected to increase over 16% in the next decade. Its GDP is valued at $123 billion — making it the highest GDP per capita city in Mexico and the second highest in Latin America.3 Both Guadalajara and Monterrey will continue to grow and expand, as will their workforces, so it will be vital to understand what today's and tomorrow's employees want. New residents don't just bring creativity and an interest in collaborating with other like-minded individuals; they also bring needs for healthcare, education, recreation, infrastructure and security. In order to keep bright individuals in the city, contributing to the growing economy, an emerging megacity must be able to provide the environment and services those individuals and their families want for a satisfying life. While business leaders often assume that a good salary will motivate people to move to a city and stay there, human and social factors are actually more important for the workers making those decisions. To attract and keep people, a city must create an environment for them to thrive across multiple dimensions, focusing on what matters most to them. Most cities, despite their rapid economic growth, are not doing a great job meeting the needs of the people who live there, which creates tension between what people value and what a city is able to deliver. Mercer found a 30+ point gap between workers' quality-of-life expectations and how a city is meeting them. To reverse that trend, city leaders must understand their importance for future economic growth and adopt a new outlook that includes these three components: 1.  Focus on people first. As technology continues to enable people to work smarter and make faster decisions, jobs will continue to change. Technology, automation and digitization will make work more efficient, but unique human capabilities will propel growing cities. If the people needed to operate and manage artificial intelligence don't want to live in a city, all the automation won't matter. Cities — as well as employers — must focus on the value of human qualities and skills and how to help those humans find satisfaction. 2.  Understand what people want. More than a good job and a good salary, people want a high quality of life. That includes the ability to feel safe and access good schools for their children, quality healthcare, recreation, clean air and water, and other lifestyle factors. Companies may be able to attract top employees, but cities must focus on providing the environment and lifestyle that will keep those employees. 3.  Prioritize partnerships. Most cities have big challenges to overcome to provide the quality of life that people want. No single entity can solve systemic problems, so public-private partnerships are crucial to address macro issues and gaps, such as in infrastructure, as well as safety and housing, and overcome challenges before they become exacerbated. Public-private partnerships are essential for cities, businesses and people to succeed. Increased urbanization and the blossom of new megacities will send waves throughout the global economy in the years to come. But to foster positive growth and innovation, successful megacities must acknowledge and act upon the wants and needs of those skilled workers who will call these cities home. Sources: 1. Selee, Andrew. "How Guadalajara Reinvented Itself as a Technology Hub," The Smithsonian Institution. 12 Jun. 2018, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/how-guadalajara-reinvented-itself-technology-hub-180969314/#kc531GtO4OwhOKDi.99. 2. "World Urbanization Prospects 2018," United Nations, https://population.un.org/wup/DataQuery/. 3. Berube, Alan; Trujillo, Jesus L.; Ran, Tao; Parilla, Joseph. "Global Metro Monitor report," Brookings, 22 Jan. 2015, https://www.brookings.edu/research/global-metro-monitor/.

More from Voice on Growth

Lewis Garrad | 30 Jan 2020

Employee engagement has become a critical topic for HR over the last 10 years as leaders have become convinced by two fundamental management ideas: having the best talent is essential to the future success of any organization, and having a highly engaged workforce is the most effective route to mobilize that talent to deliver what is needed. The result is that many organizations now invest in programs to boost engagement — mostly via an annual employee feedback survey. Yet, many organizations struggle to improve engagement and productivity in their workforce — no matter how much attention leaders and HR teams pay. Organizational inertia (or "drag") is a widespread phenomenon impacting progress on multiple levels.1 Most organizations find that people prefer to maintain the status quo rather than push for real change. This has led many HR leaders to explore what factors create more relevant and meaningful employee engagement. What Does the Science Say?   In a recent meta-analysis, scientists set out to understand how much of someone's engagement at work is predicted by personality.2 With so many organizations focusing on cultural and environmental factors, they wondered to what extent individual differences influence the way people engage with their organization. Their analysis showed that around half of someone's engagement at work is predicted by personality — with enthusiastic, upbeat and conscientious people generally displaying higher levels of engagement. This finding helps us understand why engagement can be so difficult to change. If half of engagement is predicted by personality, then organizational initiatives targeting work practices or work environment can only succeed if they include some impact at the individual level. If engagement is driven by both employee perception and personality, a shift needs to occur at the manager level. Initiatives should be implemented to target the individual employee to help create a stronger connection between that person and the work they do. Cultural/collective changes should also occur to improve conditions, like wellbeing, collaboration, creativity and productivity. This does not mean that hiring "engagable" people is a strategy for success. Diversity in an organization is an incredibly important resource. People who are more skeptical and critical might be more difficult to engage — but they are also far more likely to challenge the status quo. These people are just as important to have in the workplace, and screening them out is not an effective approach. Job Design Can Make Work More Engaging   Recently, the Facebook HR team published research that examined some of the reasons people at the company quit.3 The main reason is that employees find the day-to-day work they are doing less interesting and engaging than they want. For Facebook, it's not managers that are disengaging — it's the jobs. However, job design is typically something that managers do, and they often do it poorly. Managers are rarely given any guidance about how to do it, especially compared to the amount of training they are given about other factors, like performance management. But job design has the potential to be a more important function in people management. As AI becomes more accessible, organizations will outsource transactional work. This creates substantial opportunities to rethink how work gets done, which means we can actually use technology to help us redesign work to make it more interesting and engaging. The second opportunity in this area is adopting evidence-based management. The science behind effective job design is well established. Implementing a simple process and framework is important in empowering managers to assess current job design and improve the quality of work they create. While designing work might seem like an easy task for managers, very few employees will stick to their specific job description. By making job design a collaborative process between manager and employee, research has shown that people who craft their roles are more engaged, productive and see more meaning in what they do. Careers Can Connect Employees With the Future of Your Organization   Most organizations have been focusing on career trajectory for years. Talent reviews, internal job boards, career development conversations with your manager — all these things are designed to enable a more optimistic view about career progression. The problem is these actions do not work as well as they should. Why? Because many people are not clear about the realistic career options available to them at any one time, and the careers that are available now quickly become outdated as the organization changes structure and requirements. Carefully planned careers end up becoming irrelevant as talent demands shift. This is a really challenging topic. Even educators in schools and universities struggle with this problem — what jobs and future careers are available to students now and in the future? Constant social, technological and economic changes make this question impossible to answer. Businesses have the best opportunity to help with this challenge — but it requires a shift in focus from jobs to skills. If organizations can move from thinking of jobs as a list of functions to a bundle of adaptable skills that provide value to customers, then we can start to understand where the valuable and transferable skills are in the business. Making this shift also helps leaders talk to employees in a different way about career progression. Using technology, we can help people see the valuable skills they have, the skills that are decreasing in value and skills they need to stay relevant. Technology can also use individual engagement data to help advise employees which experiences excite them and coach them in a direction that will be the best fit for their personality. In addition to technical skills, organizations also need to think about talent for leadership. Maximizing leadership potential is a topic that many organizations care about but that few do well. As the volume of people data increases, helping people build stronger self-awareness is critical, so those who are best fit for people leadership roles can focus on developing the necessary capabilities. The Benefits of Building a More Holistic Employee Value Proposition   Work needs to be elevated from a list of tasks to be completed and instead viewed as a set of actions that have both personal meaning and commercial value. This shift isn't possible unless the HR function starts to think of the employee value proposition in a vastly different way. The most effective value propositions appreciate the whole employee experience rather than just the narrow "economic" role that work plays. It's relatively easy to make a living but it's hard to do work worth doing. A compelling employee value proposition makes an effort to do both. This means thinking past the transactional elements of the employee (pay and benefits) to incorporate more future-oriented elements of the relationships — the opportunity to innovate and create, experience a sense of sustainable wellbeing and develop new skills. The Value of Thriving at Work   Currently, many engagement programs are focused on answering how to get employees to do more for the organization. But the question that should be asked is, "How can the organization and the employee create a shared future together, using technology to create a healthier and more productive experience?" This changes the relationship dynamic and starts to value the contribution people make in a much broader way. HR leaders should look at building tools that help improve employee self-awareness, connecting what employees think about their work and how they behave in a powerful way. In summary, employee survey programs have been failing for years, in part because they have been so narrowly focused on outcomes, like an "engagement index." As technology starts to democratize the way we use employee feedback data, there is an opportunity to use it in a more two-way fashion to coach both individuals and managers. Keeping improved personal experience at the heart of innovations in employee surveys and feedback can help HR leaders make better decisions in adopting tools that will really work. For more information connect with us here: https://www.mercer.com/what-we-do/workforce-and-careers/talent-strategy/allegro-pulse-survey-platform.html Sources: 1. Garton, Eric. "Your Organization Wastes Time: Here's How to Fix It." Harvard Business Review, 13 Mar. 2017, https://hbr.org/2017/03/your-organization-wastes-time-heres-how-to-fix-it. 2. Young, Henry R.; Glerum, David R.; Wang, Wei; Joseph, Dana L. "Who Are the Most Engaged at Work? A Meta‐Analysis of Personality and Employee Engagement." Wiley Online Library, 23 Jul. 2018, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/job.2303. 3. Goler, Lori; Gale, Janelle; Harrington, Brynn; Grant, Adam. "Why People Really Quit Their Jobs." Harvard Business Review, 11 Jan. 2018, https://hbr.org/2018/01/why-people-really-quit-their-jobs.

Nancy Mann Jackson | 30 Jan 2020

Blockchain technology is not just for high-tech industries; it's gradually becoming an important part of even the most traditional professions, including agriculture. For example, India's Ministry of Commerce and Industry recently announced a blockchain-based e-marketplace for coffee producers. The marketplace is helping bridge the gap between coffee growers and buyers, allowing farmers to drastically increase their income. This initiative reflects a global trend of merging technological advances with agriculture. Blockchain Is Boosting India's Coffee Producers   Coffee produced in India is a premium product, produced by farmers who grow their beans under shade, hand pick them and dry them in the sun. The coffee is sold at premium prices around the world, but the farmers receive only a small portion of the profits, because there are many layers of buying and selling between the grower and the final consumer. The new blockchain-based marketplace app for trading Indian coffee brings growers closer to their ultimate customers, helping them earn fair pay and provide reliable traceability that allows consumers to trace their coffee from bean to cup. For customers, the ability to track the journey of the product they are buying can build trust. From the business perspective, that traceability can result in faster and more accurate recalls, reducing risk of food poisoning. By using the online marketplace, growers no longer have to depend on intermediaries. They can interact directly with buyers and earn fair prices for their products. Exporters can also use the online marketplace to quickly find reliable suppliers and traceable coffee products to meet their needs. When the Indian Coffee Board, a division of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, introduced the e-marketplace in March 2019, a group of about 20 coffee farmers, exporters, importers, roasters and retailers were already registered on the platform from India and abroad.1 From a user perspective, the platform is easy to use. Coffee farmers can log their product credentials, including their relevant certificates, growing location and elevation, details about the crop and other information. For each lot of coffee sold on the marketplace, the system creates a block. That block and its credentials are then stored on the blockchain throughout its journey and are unalterable, creating a record known as a blockchain ledger. A blockchain ledger is useful for all types of agricultural products because of its ability to record and update the status of crops — from planting and harvesting to storage and delivery. A secure, immutable ledger ensures that large agricultural operators never lose a load and that consumers can access the history and details of their food's background. Agricultural Uses of Blockchain Are Expanding Globally   India isn't the only place where the benefits of blockchain technology are having a positive impact on agriculture. France and Ethiopia have also instituted blockchain marketplaces for coffee, and similar marketplaces are operating or under development around the world for other crops and agricultural products. In China, for instance, e-commerce platform JD.com traces the production, selling and delivery process for beef raised in Inner Mongolia and purchased by customers in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. By scanning a QR code, a consumer or retailer can see the size and age of the cow, its diet, when it was slaughtered, when the meat was packaged and what the results of the food safety tests were. Another Chinese company uses ankle bracelets on chickens to record the details of each chicken's life using blockchain, providing assurance to consumers that the free-range chicken they're paying for is actually free-range.2 Analysts expect that the blockchain technology market for agriculture around the world will continue to escalate, growing 56.4% from 2018 to 2022.3 Blockchain marketplaces allow producers and buyers to view trade history, local prices and other information that allow them to negotiate prices with confidence. As food producers around the world continue adopting blockchain technology, they bring more efficiency to their supply chains, improving food safety and traceability, as well as profit margins and consumer trust. Clearly, blockchain can bring about positive change in a variety of ways, but adopting and implementing the technology is much easier said than done. In an industry like agriculture, blockchain will have to reshape a decades-old framework, and that won't happen overnight. It's up to leaders everywhere to understand the value of this technology and get their teams on board with implementing it to achieve that value — even if it means starting small. Sources: 1. "Coffee Board Activates Blockchain Based Marketplace in India." Press Information Bureau, 28 Mar. 2019, http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=189586. 2. Peters, Adele. "In China, You Can Track Your Chicken On–You Guessed It–The Blockchain." Fast Company, 12 Jan. 2018, https://www.fastcompany.com/40515999/in-china-you-can-track-your-chicken-on-you-guessed-it-the-blockchain. 3. "Global Blockchain Technology Market in the Agriculture Sector 2018-2022." Global Banking & Finance Review, 26 Sep. 2018, https://www.globalbankingandfinance.com/global-blockchain-technology-market-in-the-agriculture-sector-2018-2022-market-to-grow-at-a-cagr-of-56-4-with-agriledger-full-profile-ibm-microsoft-ripe-technology-te-food-dominating-rese/.

Jackson Kam | 30 Jan 2020

China is fostering a culture of innovation throughout its society — but most notably in its startup businesses. Multinationals can take advantage of this increased energy by investing in Chinese startups or taking a cue from how the successful ones — the "unicorns" — are meeting the demands of a growing Chinese consumer base. Multinationals must also be mindful of what Chinese workers desire most from employers, which is the ability to have a healthy work-life balance, according to Mercer's Global Talent Trends 2019 study. Currently, this is a very real challenge for employees working at tech startups. Developing a Culture of Innovation   To foster this culture of innovation within its industries, the Chinese government is making it easier for entrepreneurs to experiment and grow by implementing more "benign" business regulations. It's also ensuring that there is efficient infrastructure and local support in place.1 One sector that is particularly thriving under this new spirit is insurtech. For example: ZhongAn Online, a digital insurer backed by Ping An, Tencent and Alibaba, has launched a Software as a Service (SaaS) platform for insurance companies, giving them rapid access to ZhongAn's accumulated data on medical claims, medical insurance directories, drug prescriptions and local hospital information across the country.2 Another insurtech example is the partnership between Rui Xin Insurance Technology and China Lending, which aims to help the insurance company develop its own consumer financial platform offering China Lending's products. The two companies will also collaborate to develop more insurance products and attract more customers on both of their platforms.3 These insurtech partnerships exemplify how China is now setting the stage for experimental collaboration and innovation that challenges the status quo. Taking a Cue From Chinese Unicorns   Across many sectors, thousands of Chinese startups are disrupting industries — and stealing customers from established companies — by developing innovative business models to sell even more innovative products.4 Indeed, China has 120 successful startups, more than half of the 234 unicorns globally.5 Chinese startups are excelling because they can quickly reach scale in the large market, and they can tap a growing talent pool, particularly professionals with PhDs — twice as many as those in the U.S. They are also exhibiting a higher risk tolerance that's enabling them to conduct "fearless experimentation" to push out new products as fast as possible. With the rise of digital disruption, these unicorns are eager to take big risks and put their country back on the map as an innovator.5 How Multinationals Can Leverage This Energy   Hengyuan Zhu, associate professor and deputy chair in the Department of Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Strategy at Tsinghua University, believes that startups are successful because they are practicing "contextualized innovation." This entails collaborating with local customers within the country to make sure products meet the specific demands of those localities — and multinational companies operating in China should take a cue.6 "If they want to be successful, multinational companies will have to give more decision-making power to their local branches in China," Zhu said. "They need to do this so that they can leverage global resources, integrate into the innovation system and innovate in China for Chinese customers." An innovative workplace culture must be counterbalanced for organizations to be successful. For instance, organizations need to be willing to experiment but in a highly disciplined manner. Carefully taking this line of thought into consideration in all aspects of the workplace will ensure the success and application of a productive, innovative culture. Dealing with 996: An Unhealthy Work-Life Balance   There is a rising backlash occurring in the Chinese tech community, particularly among startups, that centers on what is known as "996.ICU." The name comes from the typical work schedule for Chinese programmers: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week.7 Some startups are forcing their workers to abide by this schedule, either explicitly or by demanding certain KPIs in an unreasonable amount of time. Others are encouraging these schedules by appealing to long-held beliefs within the Chinese culture. For example, Alibaba founder Jack Ma has stated, "No company should or can force employees into working 996 . . . But young people need to understand that happiness comes from hard work. I don't defend 996, but I pay my respect to hard workers!"7 These sentiments are contrary to what the majority of polled Chinese workers shared during the Global Talent Trends 2019 study — that the foremost condition that would help them thrive in the workplace is the ability to manage their work-life balance. This also ranks ahead of their desire to have opportunities to learn new skills and technologies and have a fun work environment. Multinationals considering investment in Chinese startups or taking cues from unicorns may consider adopting many of the attributes of those successfully innovating while fostering a healthier work-life balance for Chinese workers — which can ultimately benefit the organization's bottom line, as well. Sources: 1. Jun, Zie. "Whole-of-society effort drives technology development in China," Global Times, 25 Jun. 2019, http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1155732.shtml. 2. Fintech News Hong Kong. "ZhongAn Technology Launches AI-Powered Data Platform for China's Insurance Industry," Fintech News, 14 Aug. 2018, http://fintechnews.hk/6308/insurtech/zhongan-technology-saas-insurance-data/. 3. China Lending Corporation. "China Lending Forges Strategic Partnership with Rui Xin Insurance Technology to Develop Online Financial Services Platform," PR Newswire, 15 Jul. 2019, https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/china-lending-forges-strategic-partnership-with-rui-xin-insurance-technology-to-develop-online-financial-services-platform-300884622.html. 4. Greeven, Mark J; Yip, George S. and Wei, Wei. "Understanding China's Next Wave of Innovation," MIT Sloan Management Review, 7 Feb. 2019, https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/understanding-chinas-next-wave-of-innovation/. 5. Nheu, Christopher. "The Secret Behind How Chinese Startups are Winning," Startup Grind, 1 May 2018, https://medium.com/startup-grind/the-secret-behind-how-chinese-startups-are-winning-44876b196626. 6. Zhu, Hengyuan and Euchner, Jim. "The Evolution of China's Innovation Capability," Research-Technology Management, 10 May 2018, http://china.enrichcentres.eu/sharedResources/users/4807/The%20Evolution%20of%20China%20s%20Innovation%20Capability.pdf. 7. Liao, Rita. "China's startup ecosystem is hitting back at demand-working hours," TechCrunch, Apr. 2019, https://techcrunch.com/2019/04/12/china-996/.

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