Career

3 Reasons Why the Future of Emerging Markets Is People-First

16 May, 2019
  • Danielle Guzman

    Global Head of Social Media and Distributed Content at Mercer

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“In the future, work will be less about ‘using’ technology and more about ‘interacting’ with technology.”

Imagine you're tasked with creating a brand-new city from scratch. A broad, meandering river cuts through a level plateau of arable land, and you're responsible for whatever's to come. What do you do first? Lay out a street grid? Install emergency services? Block off land for preservation and development? Think wisely, because your next decision may determine the fate of your city's inhabitants for generations to come.

At its core, this is the same decision that local leaders of the world's emerging megacities face today. They may not be starting from scratch, but tomorrow's megacities face a similar potential for dynamic growth and expansion as yesterday's frontier boom towns. What should be their number-one priority when focusing on future development? People.

According to a recent report from Mercer titled, "People First: Driving Growth in Emerging Megacities," we must prioritize humans (not robots) for a competitive advantage. We must design technology with humans at the center. To quote Pearly Siffel, Strategy and Geographic Expansion Leader, International, at Mercer, "In the future, work will be less about 'using' technology and more about 'interacting' with technology."

1. Technology Is Fungible, People Are Not
 

The well-worn axiom that AI will transform the future of work is more true today than ever before, but it misrepresents how the future will be transformed. What may start as a race to adopt and leverage AI in the workplace will inevitably end in a saturation of technology: As soon as one firm unlocks the full potential of automation, it'll be a matter of time before their competitors replicate the model.

Who wins in a world where AI is in every office? The organizations with the best talent. Consumer and workforce demands will inevitably adapt to an AI-empowered future, and the real differentiator will be the human skills, such as critical thinking, emotional intelligence and creative problem solving, paired with technology.

A recent report by the World Economic Forum outlines the 10 skills humans will need to create value in an increasingly automated world, and it's a great reminder that peoplemust remain the focus if we're to build anything that works in the future of work.1

Tamara McCleary, Founder and CEO of Thulium, summarized this point well in a recent conversation we had: "If we are distracted by all that glitters with the promise of a frictionless future with AI, then we will surely miss the mark. While technology may be an economic accelerator in the future of work, people are still the core drivers of sustained productivity."

2. When AI Is Everywhere, People Will Still Go Somewhere
 

Everyone's familiar with the dystopic tomorrow-lands depicted in literature and film: techno-centric, automated megacities serviced by an army of robots where people are undervalued. This is not how I envision the future of work.

The proliferation of AI may mean some jobs will be automated, but those displaced workers still represent remarkable potential to cities, employers and economies. McKinsey estimates that disruption from digital transformation, automation and AI will force approximately 14% of the global workforce — 375 million workers — to find new career directions.2

However, as the economy of the future becomes less murky and reskilling/upskilling becomes a staple of every career path, there will be a massive scramble to find talent to plug newly created roles in the workforce.

This new economy is why people-skills will be so sought after in the future of work, according to April Rudin, CEO and Founder of The Rudin Group. "AI will be a tool to empowerhumans instead of replace them, enabling people to spend time on the things they do best: making relationships, exercising judgment, expressing empathy and using their problem-solving skills." Those cities that remain people-focused will be the ones with talent on-hand, and they'll be the ones to succeed.

3. A Clean Start Provides a Leg Up
 

Think about the investment that today's economic powerhouses have made in their broader commercial infrastructure. Think about public transportation systems, electrical and IT networking, private development and public zoning districts. Billions of pounds, dollars, yen, renminbi, rupees, euros and more spent on getting those cities ready for the economy of today. How will those investments pay off in the future of work?

Today's emerging megacities are "unencumbered by the legacy systems of their larger and more established brethren," according to Mercer's People-First research. While it may require massive investment to install the building blocks of a future-focused economy, there's none of the wasted expense or necessary compromise that comes with retrofitting an outmoded city for the tech-enabled future. Those cities can focus time and resources on building attractive, people-centric cities where employees will want to live, work and raise families in the future.

"It's hard to fathom the competitive advantage a modern, mass transportation system gives a city," says Walter Jennings, CEO of Asia Insights Circle. "When economic reforms started in China, Shenzhen was a fishing village of 50,000 people. Today, there are estimates of 12–16 million residents."

What's Next?
 

Let's return to the city planner. You're overlooking your parcel of land, and you're trying to envision the ideal city of the future. We may not know the street names, but we have a better sense of the guiding principles for your soon-to-be booming metropolis.

I leave you with my three takeaways, just one lens through which to explore the opportunities which lay ahead with people, technology and the emerging megacities that will power global growth.

1. Build your city (or company) around people.

2. Don't discard valuable assets. There will always be a place for good talent in good places.

3. Look for what will carry you into the future, not what's carried others in the past.

1Desjardins, Jeff, "The Skills Needed to Survive the Robot Invasion of the Workplace," Visual Capitalist, June 27, 2018, https://www.visualcapitalist.com/skills-needed-survive-robot-workplace/.
2
Illanes, Pablo, Lund, Susan, Mourshed, Mona, Rutherford, Scott and Tyreman, Magnus, "Retraining and Reskilling Workers in the Age of Automation," McKinsey Global Institute, January 2018, https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/future-of-work/retraining-and-reskilling-workers-in-the-age-of-automation

 

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To satisfy this, many companies are now turning to data-driven ways of assessing the D&I climate, focusing efforts and determining if an initiative was successful. Before implementing any D&I initiative, the company’s starting condition—its current D&I environment—should be diagnosed. D&I is a vast realm so narrowing down focus areas can help a company in implementing or improving practices. The diagnosis can help identify focus areas and drive diversity initiatives forward in a tailored way that will fill the company’s distinct gaps. To gather useful D&I data, some companies conduct regular employee engagement surveys, asking questions that focus on company culture and inclusion. From the onset, these surveys, especially when done consistently, can serve as a barometer of the company’s D&I culture since it is based on first-hand feedback directly from employees. It is also key to evaluate employee data, such as turnover rates, promotion and salary. 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Storing data from evaluations and all D&I initiatives can help measure changes along the way. The end goal of a more inclusive, diverse team is of course central to D&I but there should also be methods of measuring success along the journey. Each company is different and there will never be a one-size-fits-all approach to D&I but consistent data collection can help companies implement, modify and quantify their success. 3.  Increased leadership accountability & support for D&I programs. Corporate leadership is recognizing that a solid D&I strategy is not merely a “nice-to-have” add-on carried out solely by the HR department but is instead a business imperative in today’s competitive landscape. Among the best practices for D&I implementation are executive buy-in and a strategic emphasis on D&I as a valued competitive advantage. Some companies are taking it a step further and modifying the structure of an organization’s leadership to enrich its approach to D&I. In a top down approach, some companies are making headway on D&I by creating an executive role in the form of a chief diversity and inclusion officer. The D&I executive can outline goals, establish targets, identify key improvement areas and then lead the organization through the steps of meeting goals. While this person interfaces with all areas of the organization in various capacities, the D&I’s department takes ownership and spearheads D&I initiatives. An employee-led grassroots approach forms a decentralized company-wide D&I council that draws on feedback directly from employees. While it still requires executive buy-in, the council’s reach is distributed through the entire workforce. The council appoints representatives from various departments or segments of a company and meets regularly to improve the company’s D&I culture as it pertains to recruitment, engagement and development. Some companies might opt for a hybrid approach to D&I leadership, which would involve appointing a D&I-specific executive and a D&I council. Instead of being solely led by employees, the D&I council is supported by the HR department and guided by representation from both the D&I executive and employees. Initiatives are cooperatively strategized and outlined by the D&I executive, HR and employees. The three groups agree upon how initiatives will be spearheaded and what role each group will play in their execution. 4.  Interview standardization will continue & reduce bias. Inconsistent recruitment practices will yield inconsistent (or, even worse, illegal) hiring results and may also open floodgates for unconscious bias in hiring processes. For quality and compliance, HR should have policies in place that ensure the hiring process is standardized from the time they list the job all the way through to when the hired employee steps in the door (or signs online if they’re remote) for their first day of work. Establishing and implementing hiring best practices provides a company’s recruiters with control and guidance for hiring. This type of standardization enhances transparency, allows for a fair comparison of candidates and reduces the risk of violating applicable labor laws. It also helps promote a company’s E&D profile. Striving for behavioral interviewing methods is an ideal strategy because a person’s behavior is an indication of future performance, especially when it comes to soft skills. According to research from LinkedIn, 57% of HR professionals struggle to assess candidates’ soft skills while 80% report that soft skills are increasingly important to company success. This makes sense because soft skills are one area where automation and AI cannot fully compete with humans. Many companies want the initial introduction with a candidate to be as blind as possible. This might mean starting out with a phone interview, which will eliminate visually-based unconscious bias upfront. Some companies are taking it a step further to accomplish the “blind interview,” using voice modulation apps for technical interviews so the interviewer won’t know the candidate’s gender or be able to pick up on any accent that might distinguish background attributes of the candidate. Behavioral interviewing seeks to uncover how an individual will react in critical job situations and can potentially provide more insight about a candidate’s qualification for the job than what is written on their resume or what you hear when you ask a candidate about their professional background. These questions could start with, “What would you do in…” or, “Tell me about a time when you…” Using an example of a customer service representative interview, the interviewer might present prospective candidates with a hypothetical customer situation and have them explain their approach to addressing it.   Asking the typical behavioral interviewing questions reduces the risk of legal or ethical pitfalls in the interview questions. Formally planning and asking all candidates the same questions saves time and prevents duplicate questions from being asked by multiple interviewers (unless intentionally done, so as to confirm consistency in the candidate’s response). This brings up another key point of having multiple people interview each candidate when possible. Engaging multiple interviewers can help overcome unconscious bias in interviews and offer a wider perspective for determining a candidate’s standing. However, even behavioral interview questions can be answered untruthfully by candidates. Pre-employment assessments can validate or negate the data derived from an interview. There are many options available to companies for hiring assessment tools that quantify and use objective, impartial data to evaluate candidates. Results from pre-employment assessments can provide an accurate snapshot of a candidate's strengths and weaknesses. The results can even be input to create hiring benchmarks that candidates can be compared to. 5.  Diversity & inclusion will be embraced across products & services for customers. D&I has gone mainstream. In the age of customer-centricity, there is mounting pressure on companies across industries to launch inclusive products and solutions that meet the needs of all customers. The 2019 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting identified ‘empathy for the end-user’ as a key competitive advantage for succeeding in the digital age. In the age of digital transformation, companies will have to become more accessible to wider customer bases—and invoke messages and values that resonate with audiences across cultural and geographic boundaries.  According to LinkedIn, nearly half of employers said that they emphasize the importance of diversity to better represent their customers. This number is likely to grow as customers, who are increasingly accustomed to personalized products and services, will expect D&I to be embedded in the customer experience. Meanwhile, 70% of millennials are more likely to choose one brand over another brand if that brand demonstrates D&I in terms of its promotions and offers. As an industry that has been spearheading corporate D&I efforts for years, HR has deep expertise and can play a prominent role in leading the customer experience transformation. As companies look to amplify their market-relevance, HR departments will be charged with strategically staffing companies in ways that enrich the D&I profile and foster greater connections with customers. The moral case for building fairer and more inclusive workplaces is clear: people matter and organizations have an ethical and legal obligation to ensure their people management strategies do not disadvantage any groups. But equally important, D&I has evolved from being an HR-led initiative to being one that is reverberated to all corners of a company as a key business strategy. As global unemployment reaches its lowest point in 40 years and we enter an employment economy, the hiring landscape is only becoming more competitive. In this landscape, D&I is fast becoming one of the most powerful tools a business has. By keeping pace, HR can help companies leverage D&I to reimagine people management and elevate brand-loyalty among employees, customers and investors. 

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Editorial Staff | 19 Aug 2019

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.

Isabelle Hernu-Sfeir | 19 Aug 2019

In accordance with the ‘Professional Future’ law passed on September 5, 2018, French companies/subsidiaries with over 50 employees are now required to publish on their website their Gender Pay Equity Index on an annual basis. The deadline imposed by the law for the first publication of the index depends on the size of the French entities: - 1st March 2019 for entities with over 1,000 employees; - 1st September 2019 for entities with 250 to 1,000 employees; - 1st March 2020 for entities with 50 to 250 employees. The law sets out the five indicators that should be assessed to establish the index value. If the value of the index turns out to be less than 75 out of 100, the company then must implement actions to reach this threshold within a three-year timeframe. Should the threshold not be reached after three years or should the company not publish the index, then the company will incur a financial penalty of up to 1% of payroll. The French State intends to follow this very closely and is expected to review 7,000 companies in 2019. This is a wonderful opportunity to revisit your company action plan to reduce the gender pay gap. It is a call to take action to improve diversity and inclusion in organizations’ career, talent and performance management processes. The French pay equity index is a score out of 100 points defined as the total of 5 indicators: 1. The Gender Pay Gap, for identical positions and ages (up to 40 points) (0 points allocated if the gap is more than 20%); 2. The difference between the number of men and women given a pay increase during the year (up to 20 points); 3. The difference between the number of men and women promoted during the year (up to 15 points); 4. The percentage of employees given a pay rise on their return from maternity leave (up to 15 points). This catching-up pay rise has been mandatory since 2006. If only one employee did not get it over the year on return from maternity leave, then the company gets no points for this criteria; 5. The number of people from the under-represented gender (usually women) among the 10 highest earners (up to 10 points). Based on published indices to date, this last indicator is the one on which companies score the lowest. The average representation of the women in the 10 highest earners is two or three out of ten. The above indicators 2 and 3 are merged into one indicator over 35 points for French entities with less than 250 employees. Would you like to find out more?      Mercer France can help you ensure you are compliant with the gender pay equity law in France and can help you implement efficient actions to reduce your Gender Pay Gap and improve diversity and inclusion in your HR processes. Click here to get in touch.

Editorial Staff | 17 Aug 2019

There is a huge opportunity for blockchain to establish itself in the healthcare sector. Learn more about specific use cases that can help innovate how HR departments deliver healthcare & wellness benefits. Blockchain technology is one of the most disruptive technologies on the market today, with multiple industries adopting it to optimize processes and innovate the way companies function. It has proven to be a game changer in the business arena and the global blockchain technology market is estimated to amass US$20 billion in revenue by 2024. Meanwhile, SAP reports that 71% of business leaders who are actively using blockchain believe it plays a key role in advancing technology and reestablishing industry standards.  While blockchain has already been widely integrated in processes for supply chains, banking and cryptocurrency (e.g. Bitcoin), the healthcare industry has also been identified as one of the top industries likely to be disrupted. Blockchain technology could offer solutions to some of  healthcare’s greatest challenges, from securely managing patients’ medical data to tracking large databases of drugs through the supply chain or extracting healthcare data from clinical trials. As the technology advances and becomes more readily available, more healthcare organizations across the industry will be adopting blockchain solutions to redesign the global healthcare ecosystem.  HR serves a critical function for the healthcare industry and is an intermediate between employees and one of the most valued aspects of life: their health. According to Bitfortune, 55% of healthcare applications will adopt blockchain platforms for commercial deployment by 2025. Meanwhile, adoption seems to be ramping up with multiple governments around the world announcing plans to invest in blockchain and encourage its implementation. For example, Singapore’s government has announced financial incentives to enterprises for adopting the technology. Amid an evolving industry, it is imperative HR professionals stay current with how blockchain’s ledger technology is disrupting the healthcare industry. They should especially keep a pulse on the implications blockchain holds for delivering the employee experience with improved healthcare and other benefits. Use cases: how blockchain can help HR transform in delivering healthcare & benefits   While the use of blockchain technology is still more commonly associated with payment functions, its disruption to HR will be profound and pervasive in coming years with many possible use cases across the functions of an HR department. To prepare for the coming blockchain revolution, HR departments should focus on identifying problem areas and inefficient processes that could be addressed by the transparency, accuracy and speed that blockchain provides. The processes most primed for blockchain disruption are those that are burdensome and expensive with substantial data collection and third-party verification. For this reason, healthcare and benefits could be the ideal match for an HR department looking to adopt blockchain technology. 1.  Enhancing fraud prevention & cybersecurity for sensitive data in HR. HR teams conduct some of the highest-volume financial transactions for an organization and handle sensitive employee data related to healthcare (as well as, banking, disciplinary records, performance records, expense reimbursement, and more). Unfortunately, all of the data an HR department maintains is at risk of being exploited and, as more companies face data breaches, it is becoming increasingly important that proper measures are in place to maintain security and prevent fraud. A company’s cyber risks largely emerge from an underlying lack of transparency and accuracy in its data systems. Because of its capacity for promoting transparency and accuracy, blockchain technology is being lauded as a solution for combating cybersecurity crime and protecting data. While blockchain’s popularity grows among large companies and companies that hold critical, sensitive data (for example, Lockheed Martin is trusting it to secure data), it is also being used by nonprofits to collect donations securely. It is important to consider that blockchain technology can mitigate both internal fraud and external hacks of sensitive employee records. Access to the blockchain is limited and controlled—even those who have access are not able to modify the records. This limits both internal fraud and external hacks of sensitive employee records. In the digital age, data is a major asset for a company. Blockchain essentially functions to decentralize data and places it across a large network of computer storage spaces to reduce the risk that a single hacking event could usurp all the data a company has. By using blockchain, HR departments can introduce a solid measure of security against cyber threats to protect their employees’ health information. 2.  Improving health insurance, health records & patient experience with ‘smart contracts.’ Much of blockchain’s power comes in the application of ‘smart contracts’, which many organizations are using to make payments to employees, contractors and vendors. In fact, it is reported that 45% of early adopters of blockchain are already implementing smart contracts within their organizations. A smart contract codes a set of parameters using statements in ‘if this, then that” (IFTTT) language. These contracts are designed so that, once executed, the entire process is dictated by these codes. It is also made irreversible unless of course terms of a contract need to be updated. While smart contracts have many applications for HR functions in terms of payroll, there are some very important considerations HR departments should be aware of in terms of healthcare. Smart contracts have the potential to be used for insurance, including how patients buy insurance. Through a smart contract, all details of an insuree’s policy could be stored in a patient profile. This profile would then be stored on the blockchain platform in a safe and secure ledger that is less prone to hacks than the databases currently used.  Smart contracts could also impact the insurance claim process by eliminating the need for lengthy forms and time lags. If an insuree undergoes a medical procedure covered by the policy, a smart contract would be automatically triggered to transfer money from the insurance company’s account straight to the hospital or medical provider. The automation cuts out delays and hassles, allowing for correct payment of the medical service. There are also numerous implications for electronic medical records, information and medical data sharing. Storing patient’s electronic health records (EHR) on secured ledgers, for example, would allow a patient to move easily from one hospital to another without having to fill out numerous forms. The blockchain network would safely store their records, allowing their new physician to access them without delay. While hospitals and healthcare providers currently rely on a number of databases filled with patient data, these can be too centralized and restrictive for sharing potentially life-saving insights around the globe. If health records were to be kept in a smart contract stored on the blockchain, the data analytics would be available to hospitals, providers and research institutions everywhere. With widespread adoption of this healthcare blockchain technology, an individual could essentially walk into any hospital in the world for treatment and, with their private key, their health data would be accessible instantly. 3.  Offering better access to healthcare & other benefits. Blockchain’s ‘smart contracts’ could also change how employees gain access to healthcare and benefits. Once the employer outlines the terms of employment prior to hiring, HR is charged with upholding the conditions in the contract. These terms include provisions that employees value in their employee experience, such as healthcare insurance, wellness programs or other benefits. The current model of manually delivering benefits runs risks of errors and could get in the way of properly servicing employees. With blockchain, HR could seamlessly deliver upon these benefits by implementing smart contracts that automate the process. For example, if a company outlines that an employee’s benefits packages begins after a specific waiting period, the smart contract would be written to automate these benefits at the right time and in the right fashion. Not only does blockchain have the potential to improve security and automation of benefits, it is possible for benefits to be more personalized to each individual employee. In today’s digital world, consumers are accustomed to enjoying personalized experiences and this trend of hyper-personalization is reaching the workplace. Through blockchain’s smart contracts, which could be integrated with artificial intelligence (AI) and IoT technology, companies would be able to empower employees with benefits packages and wellness programs that are tailored specifically for them and their evolving needs. These personalized packages could become a critical tool for enhancing the employee experience. Challenges HR faces in implementing blockchain to deliver benefits   Blockchain is a quickly evolving technology with new applications and trends regularly emerging. Though it is becoming more widely adopted across a variety of industries, it is inevitable that first-time users will run into issues and challenges in implementing it. For HR departments, it is imperative to consider these challenges as they explore which processes might be impacted by blockchain. 1.  Data standardization & integration with legacy systems. With blockchain being a new technology, protocols and standards for its application are not yet established. When the internet began to commercialize, it initially struggled without proper protocols. But over time, controls were implemented to allow for browser compatibility, cross-platform multimedia and better interconnectivity between servers. As more sectors adopt blockchain—especially healthcare which handles sensitive and personal data—ensuring that blockchains offer an industry-wide benefit will require widespread collaboration and standardization. For example, it will have to be determined when private, as opposed to public, if blockchains make sense. Otherwise, this could impact the security and functionality of blockchain technology. All industries will have to get over a major hurdle when it comes to integrating blockchain solutions with legacy systems—or replacing legacy systems altogether. But the hurdle is especially high for HR and healthcare, which are often bound to specific legal regulations and already have very specific HR or healthcare systems in place that incorporate these parameters. Synching these systems or replacing them with blockchain technology could prove to be difficult. 2.  Adoption & incentives for participation. Despite enthusiasm and a strong record of success, blockchain adoption has proven to be difficult for companies. Greenwich Associates surveyed companies that have implemented blockchain and 57% reported its integration has been harder than expected. In terms of scalability, 42% of respondents reported it as a major issue, 39% said it is a minor issue and 19% said it is no issue at all. Much of the challenges are culture or people-related, rather than technical. For example, most people resist change and, if they do tolerate it, they generally prefer it to happen gradually and incrementally. The oppositions to change could be even more pronounced for those in HR, especially with employees across an organization resisting how healthcare and employee benefits—which are very personal—is administered. Some of the proposed uses for blockchain would result in systemic changes that rapidly transform the entire system. Even if employees and management are open to change, HR still has work cut out in hiring, education and training. Blockchain will require companies to hire more research and analytical staff as well as offer training on how to properly implement it. But this is where HR thrives. By helping to cultivate a culture of digital transformation, HR departments can also guide companies on their blockchain journey. 3.  High costs of developing & operating blockchain technology. The adoption of blockchain technology is likely to offer long-term benefits in regard to productivity, efficiency, timeliness, and reduced costs. However, one of the greatest obstacles to widespread adoption of blockchain is the high cost to initially install it. The software required to implement blockchain within an organization must typically be developed specifically for each individual company. This makes it expensive to obtain, whether hiring in-house or buying from a developer. Moreover, even after the blockchain software is developed, the company would also have to purchase specialized hardware to be used with it.  In addition to the software development costs, companies must also find qualified personnel to operate the technology.  The blockchain space is new and growing so rapidly that the demand for professionals in the field outweighs the supply. This makes hiring qualified blockchain experts—either in-house or as consultants—quite costly. Currently, it appears that the world’s largest corporations are the only ones benefiting from blockchain because they have the money, resources and data to spare. Furthermore, the technology itself seems too new and not yet fully understood for SMEs to adopt in droves. However, this is all likely to change over time. The commercialization of the internet was gradual and in the early days it required companies who wanted to go online to put up a substantial amount of money upfront and invest in customized solutions. Eventually, as blockchain becomes more mainstream, it will also become much less expensive, more streamlined and more accessible to companies. Blockchain is already demonstrating its potential to disrupt business as we know it. Because the HR department guards and manages large amounts of sensitive data that are critical to employees’ lives and how a company operates, it is likely that blockchain technology will be infused directly into the HR function to add transparency and trust to various processes. Healthcare and benefits administration is one of the processes that blockchain technology is likely to directly transform. Though there are challenges in cost, scalability and perception to overcome, HR departments could potentially use blockchain technology to provide employees with greater access to more personalized benefits packages. Furthermore, as time is freed up by automated processing, HR departments will be able to turn their efforts to more value-adding activities such as building employee engagement and experience.

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