Health

Optimizing Digital Disruption: Transforming Benefits Management and Communications to Optimize ROI

16 January, 2018
  • Josh Fisher

    Growth Markets Commercial Director, Thomsons Online Benefits at Mercer

article-img
“82% of millennials say workplace technology would influence them when deciding whether to accept a new job."

Change is a constant, but the pace of change is greater than ever, with greater impact on the way organizations run their global benefits programs  Many factors involved are outside a company’s direct control, but nonetheless, put increasing pressure on the investment in, design and execution of — and value provided by — benefits within the wider value proposition.

Major trends — occurring at both societal and business levels — influencing how organizations think about their global benefits programs include:

  • Business globalization
    HR needs to be agile, respond to change quickly, achieve global consistency to ensure quality and efficiency, have single global suppliers to better control the supply chain and streamline operations to reduce costs and manual processes.
  • Workforce pressures
    Organizations need to address skills shortages while appealing to multiple generations, retaining employees in a mobile world and tackling the challenges of an aging workforce.
  • Digitization
    The focus on cloud-based technology and automation to improve efficiencies and effectiveness while meeting executives’ demand for data-driven HR decisions and employees’ desire for a consumer-grade technology experience is growing.
  • Regulation and health costs
    Regulatory reform, worsening health/ wellness profiles, spiraling health costs and demand for greater employee choice all add to the complexity of global benefits programs.
     

Given these challenges, many organizations find their current benefits approach isn’t delivering desired results. Many have no global strategy in place, and those that do are typically managing benefits manually or are using different local systems, making consistency and governance nearly impossible.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. By harnessing the power of technology and the data within it to inform and optimize each part of the benefits process, employers can address key concerns and derive valuable results for their businesses.

Transforming HR Technology
 

No one likes to perform low-value administrative tasks or deal with mistakes and errors — people want to make a difference at work. Thankfully, automation algorithms are changing the role of HR, replacing manual administration and allowing teams to focus on value-added work. Research by Gartner shows that by 2020, half of roles will be impacted or even totally disrupted by technology[1]. This is further demonstrated by research from

Sierra-Cedar showing that recruitment for administrative roles is decreasing even as recruitment for HR technology and analytics roles is on the rise[2].

As this shift continues, analytics will become the only way to inform decision-making, and artificial intelligence (AI) will become the new way to support employees and provide service. For the first time, employers will be able to measure every aspect of their benefits strategy and delivery to optimize performance by evaluating success and adapting to challenges as they arise.

Employees Demand Consumer-Grade Experience
 

In the past few years, employees have started making more decisions about their careers based on experiences with their employers. Some 80% of millennials reach for their smartphones when they wake[3]. People increasingly buy products based on how quickly they can get their delivery. So it’s hardly surprising that 82% of millennials say workplace technology would influence them when deciding whether to accept a new job[4].

Companies that understand and accept this cultural shift are responding by eliminating paper-based processes. But the pace of workplace technology adoption has been slow. To meet employee demands and secure the best talent, employers must reconsider how they serve their employees.

AI is Driving Self-Service on Demand
 

In the digital world, AI is rapidly becoming the best way to support employees and provide service — a major reason tech giants are investing enormously in this space. In fact, most investment analysts see 2017 as the year AI functioning as a personal assistant really starts to take hold[].

It’s not just about employees. A large ecosystem is now being developed in the corporate world to improve the roles of contact centers and improve customer experiences. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the best customer service isn’t focused on servicing the unhappiest of clients but on ensuring minimal contact. Anyone who has used online chat support has likely had a good portion of the conversation automated and perhaps dealt with an agent who has simply checked prepopulated responses. Every time an agent marks a response as correct, the bot learns, improving the customerexperience.

Data Drives HR Decision Making
 

In the employee arena, companies are sitting on huge amounts of data, leading to changes in the way they make decisions. In coming years, executive leaders will increasingly expect all recommendations to be based on real-time, accurate and even predictive data.

Ultimately, the role of human capital management vendors will change — as will the way companies think about buying from them. For many employers benefits command the single largest spend outside of pay, yet chief HR officers currently devote a tiny portion of their time to ensuring they’re getting the maximum value. Analytics will provide the ability to unlock the value of the enormous benefits spend — giving benefits increasingly strategic importance to the chief HR officer.

The Role of Benefits is Changing
 

These changes couldn’t come at a better time. Traditionally, benefits were used to provide a safety net in a working career in case an employee died, developed a long-term illness or needed income in retirement. But workers today no longer stay with their employers for life — 72% of workers expect to change their jobs more than three times in their careers[]. As a result, the relationship between employee and company has changed. At the same time, companies have been shifting liabilities to their workforces.

As employers recognize that a healthier, happier and more engaged workforce creates a more productive organization, benefits trends are undergoing major change. Companies want to focus more on health and wellness so employees won’t get sick — and will get back to work quickly if they do get sick. Employers also want to help alleviate employees’ everyday worries. In short, they want their benefits programs to show their workers that they care and are doing the most they can to help.

Technology has aided this transition as companies move more benefits into reimbursement-style accounts that empower employees in managing their health and finances. Employers can also take advantage of platforms that allow users to access information on the move in a format that’s relevant to them. Furthermore, the proliferation of wearable trackers and gamification helps promote employee dedication to health and wellness.

Mercer Marsh Benefits Powered By Darwin: A New Solution
 

Having a vision for a better approach to global benefits is one thing; delivering it in the right way is another. Given the transforming HR arena and the growing focus on digital technology, Mercer Marsh Benefits has developed and tailored an approach to addressing organizations’ needs as they go down this path of disruption.

Too often, global benefits management is focused on fixing immediate problems or using tactical responses rather than setting strategies and plans in motion to drive the right outcomes — whether for engagement, productivity, sustainability or effectiveness — in a demonstrable way. Proactive organizations seek a partner that is flexible enough to address unique needs and stay adaptable over time rather than simply dictating a course of action. Global consistency is also essential, as is expertise with regulatory compliance.

Ultimately, multinationals need a partner with an eye on the future to see coming trends and develop responses before others do. Darwin™, acquired by Mercer in December 2016, is a cloud-based, technology-driven solution that meets these needs for all aspects of benefits communication and

administration. It communicates and manages global benefits day to day, in multiple currencies and languages, helping improve user experiences, efficiency of processes and informed decision making. It also helps transform the broking process, with globally consistent data that accelerates the adoption of international pooling and captives, providing better long-term financing and risk management solutions for global benefits.

The technology also improves consultancy, harnessing data and engagement with employees to drive deeper insights and identify trends and patterns. The uniqueness of the solution is in how it transforms the role of anyone who works with benefits. Non-value added activities become automated, eliminating waste and elevating individuals’ roles, driving outcomes for the company and employee alike.

Conclusion
 

As HR contends with a host of mounting challenges — globalization, workforce pressures, digitization, regulatory reform, healthcare costs — it’s also being asked to step up and find new ways of working, spending less time performing wasteful administrative tasks and focusing more on becoming strategic advisors who drive business outcomes. Many organizations still struggle with strategic benefits management and are ill-equipped to address these trends.

The rise of powerful technology platforms, such as Darwin, along with providing consulting expertise will help HR harness the power of its data to gain maximum insights and optimize the benefits management process. This, in turn, will transform decision-making to drive desired outcomes and, ultimately, create business value for the organization as a whole.

 

1 Gartner. “Gartner Reveals Top Predictions for IT Organizations and Users for 2016 and Beyond” [press release] (October 6, 2015).

2 Sierra-Cedar. 2015–2016 HR Systems Survey White Paper. 18th Annual Edition (2015).

3 Zogby Analytics. Millennial Study (2014).

4 Dell. “Dell and Intel Future Workforce Study Provides Key Insights Into Technology Trends Shaping the Modern Global Workplace” [press release] (April 2, 2013).

5 Brackenridge G. “Machine Learning Is Transforming Investment Strategies for Asset Managers” [commentary] CNBC (June 6, 2017)

6 Hays. Gen Y and the World of Work (2013)

MORE IN HEALTH

Alice Harkness | 31 Oct 2019

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

Patrick Hyland, PhD | 17 Oct 2019

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

Dr. Avneet Kaur | 03 Oct 2019

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

More from Voice on Growth

Pat Milligan | 19 Dec 2019

Life expectancies have risen sharply in recent decades, from an average age of under 53 years in 1960 to 72 years in 2017. And in high-income countries, the average life expectancy is closer to 80 years of age.1 Given longer lives and longer work lives across the globe, fewer people today are adhering to a career model defined by three key phases of professional working life: school, work and retirement. Instead, a multistage life is increasingly common — one in which individuals may go in and out of the workforce, work part time or join the gig economy, and get new training or credentials in midlife or later. As workforces live longer and delay retirement, employers are struggling to evolve models, practices and policies that align with this new reality. To permit people to extend working life and remain productive into older age, employers must become "age ready" — or risk losing out on the benefits this growing segment has to offer. Another important factor is ensuring these employees are not victims of age discrimination — a common prejudice that often goes overlooked even in organizations committed to employment equity and that embrace the most comprehensive Diversity & Inclusion strategies. A Global Workforce of Experienced Employees   Mercer's "Next Stage: Are You Age-Ready" report reveals that, though populations across the world are living and working longer, the Asia Pacific region is feeling the greatest impact from a rapidly emerging generation of experienced employees. In fact, the report states that there will more than 200 million people age 65 and older between 2015 and 2030. Japan is becoming the world's first "ultra-aged" population, where those over 65 years of age will comprise more than 28% of the population. Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan — designated as "super-aged" populations — are not far behind, with more than 21% of their citizens soon becoming 65 and older. Increasing life expectancies have forced mature employees to face some difficult decisions. While many continue working out of a desire to learn new skills, connect with others or satisfy a desire to contribute to society, some aging workers don't have that choice. Instead, these employees continue working simply to finance the costs of their extended lives. Getting older is expensive, and weakening pension systems, poor savings habits in a context of inequalities in income growth, and low interest rates have all conspired to undermine the security once taken for granted by those nearing retirement age. Aging workers who opt not to retire present their employers, as well as incoming generations of younger workers, with unprecedented challenges and opportunities. Dispelling Preconceived Notions and Biases   Though workplaces around the world have greatly improved their efforts to curtail discrimination related to an employee's race, sexual orientation and gender, efforts to address age discrimination are often overlooked. Here are some of the most entrenched and damaging myths concerning seasoned employees, according to Mercer's Next Stage report: 1.  Myth: "Experienced workers are less productive." Truth: Extensive research dispels the myth that job performance declines with age. 2.  Myth: "Experienced workers have difficulties learning new skills and technologies." Truth: The hurdle here is not that these workers have difficulties learning new skills, but rather they often haven't previously received the training necessary to advance certain skills or knowledge. However, research shows that 85% of workers, including experienced employees, actively seek opportunities for skills development and technical training to enhance their career development possibilities. 3.  Myth: "Experienced workers are more costly." Truth: Pay can be higher for increased age (and responsibility) but older workers can significantly reduce costs for employers in other ways, like through reduced turnover rates. In Mercer's data, some drop off in pay for the same level of job is experienced as workers age. Mercer's penetrating research and analysis on the productivity levels, learning intent and capacities, and employer expenses related to experienced workers reveals a much more nuanced and complex relationship between older employees and their younger colleagues. Even in study cases where older workers did show lower individual productivity levels, the assessments did not account for key nuances, such as the time dedicated to mentoring, training and guiding others instead of focusing on their individual performances. Expanding the Value of Experienced Employees   Businesses must learn to capitalize on the talents, skills and potential of mature employees who are postponing retirement. Mercer's Global Talent Trends 2019 report states that the integration of modern technologies into corporate HR systems presents older employees with powerful tools that can teach them new, valuable skills. In addition, these technologies provide them with curated career development paths using specialized learning functionalities and predictive software algorithms. Corporate learning platforms can be used to shape content relevant to a particular ambition, close a skills gap or build connections among peers who can share expertise. Curated learning programs also allow employees to develop at their own pace and earn credentials based on benchmarks determined by personal career objectives. Professional development opportunities for experienced employees are also limited by many employers' inability to accurately assess the value and scope of their contributions. Mercer's Next Stage report argues that experienced workers can contribute significantly to organizational performance through their deep institutional knowledge, social capital specific to the business and technical or content expertise honed from years of on-the-job practice. Also, critical soft skills, such as listening, communicating, collaborating and team building, are commonly undervalued. Businesses that rely on common proxies for performance, such as performance ratings, promotion probability and pay, are likely to under-appreciate the contributions of their experienced workers and miss opportunities to better leverage their work. By maximizing the value and potential of experienced workers, employers can create new professional development opportunities that leverage these workers' experience, expertise and life-knowledge. With age comes wisdom. When empowered, experienced employees can lead their companies into the future — guided by their invaluable experience with the past. Sources: 1. "Life expectancy at birth, total (years)." The World Bank, 2017, https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/sp.dyn.le00.in

Fabio Takaki | 19 Dec 2019

Influential women can make a transformative difference in a company, industry or even a nation. When women are leaders, they are more likely to contribute to education, health and community development programs in the areas where they work and live, according to Mercer's "When Women Thrive, Businesses Thrive" report. Despite the positive benefits women leaders bring to businesses and communities, female decision-makers remain difficult to find in leading financial firms around the world. Women are also significantly underrepresented on the leadership teams of companies that receive investment capital. A new report from Oliver Wyman (part of MMC group of companies) shows that globally, women hold 20% of positions in executive committees and 23% on boards, but only 6% of CEOs in financial institutions are women. However, in the Middle East — traditionally one of the most challenging regions for female leaders to scale — women are gradually being named to leadership positions in the region's financial sector.1 As women make their mark in Middle Eastern finance and, in turn, their communities and region, business leaders around the world should take notice. Women Leaders in Middle East Finance   The growing number of influential women in Middle Eastern finance includes those working in banks, investment firms, financial law and consulting companies.1 For instance, in September 2018, Ms. Rola Abu Manneh was named CEO of Standard Chartered UAE, becoming the first Emirati woman to lead a bank in the UAE. With a long experience in UAE banking, Ms. Abu Manneh has the knowledge and leadership competencies to bring important business to her bank. In her first year as CEO, she has already advised Dubai-based Emaar Properties on the sale of its hotels to Abu Dhabi National Hotels.2 Ms. Rania Nashar is another great example — she is the first female CEO of Saudi commercial bank, Samba Financial Group, one of the largest in the region. Ms. Nashar has over 20 years of experience in the commercial banking sector and was named CEO in 2017, becoming the first female CEO of a listed Saudi Arabian bank.3 That was also a moment when Saudi Arabia began implementing reforms to promote gender equality as part of the KSA's Vision 2030, and Ms. Nashar says she wants to continue doing more. "I have to not only prove to myself that a bank of Samba's size can be run by a female CEO — and can achieve the best results in its history — I have to prove it for all the women in Saudi Arabia and in the world," Ms. Nashar notes. "I hope that I can be an honourable portrait for Saudi women."4 Ms. Lubna Olayan is also an influential leader in Saudi Arabia. For more than 30 years, she was the CEO of Olayan Financing Company, the holding company through which The Olayan Group's trading, real estate, investment, consumer and industrial-related operations are conducted in the Gulf region. She has received numerous awards and recognition, including landing in Time's list of the 100 most influential people in the world, Fortune's list of Most Powerful Women and recognized as a champion of women's economic empowerment.5 Why Gender-Balanced Leadership Matters   Women leaders such as these are helping to advance and make a shift in the gender balance in the region's financial sector. While they represent progress, there is still much to be done. Governments are working to increase the gender balance but transforming the mindsets of business leaders and overcoming bias is a slow process. However, it's a process worth pursuing. For organizations and nations that are facing workforce challenges, an underutilized female workforce represents a strategic opportunity to compete, grow and win, helping to transform the entire economy. According to Mercer's "When Women Thrive, Businesses Thrive" report, women's essential roles as providers, caretakers, decision-makers and consumers make them instrumental in the education and health of future generations, as well as the development of their communities. Women leaders can also be instrumental in building stronger and more collaborative teams; retaining, developing and nurturing talent; and bringing a diverse and new perspective for organizations. In fact, the Mercer report also shows that increased participation from women in the workforce has implications for the economic and social development of communities and nations. Economists have calculated that eliminating the gap between male and female employment rates could significantly boost gross domestic product by 5% in the United States, 9% in Japan, 12% in the United Arab Emirates and 34% in Europe. Achieving Gender Equity in Underrepresented Sectors   Finding the right approach for sourcing and engaging female talent depends on the individual company's culture and needs, but there are some broad strategies that may be effective globally. Mercer research shows that the chief building blocks for achieving gender diversity are health, financial well-being and talent management elements. 1. Health   Health concerns are of special significance to the female population, as women are affected by different health issues and illnesses than men, and they experience and use the healthcare system in different ways than men. For example, there are gender specific risk factors for common mental disorders that disproportionately affect women, affecting their capacity to be productive at work. Unipolar depression, a leading factor of working disability, is twice as common in women than in men.6 To achieve gender equity in business, companies must make healthcare available to women in the ways they most need, including: 1.  Flexibility for maternity leave 2.  Physical health, wellness and mental health support 3.  More autonomy and access to health resources 4.  Psychological support for severe life events 5.  Confidential medical support dedicated for women 2. Financial Well-being   Women reportedly have greater financial responsibility and greater financial stress than men. According to a 2018 study conducted by Prudential, the average woman has saved less for retirement compared to the average man. Only 54% of women have put aside money for retirement, and on average, they have saved $115,412. By contract, 61% of men have saved for retirement, and on average, they have saved $202,859. This greatly increases the likelihood of a woman living in poverty in retirement and is exacerbated by women's longer life expectancies.7 To address this, organizations need to ensure that women receive fair financial compensation, greater coaching and educational support in planning for their financial futures, tailored retirement options for women, and encouragement for systematic and regular contributions to savings and retirement accounts. 3. Talent Management   Women need opportunities for advancement, as well as training and development opportunities. In addition, they also need flexible work options that make it possible for them to fulfill other essential roles outside of work. Attention to management positions are critical to further improve the gender participation in executive levels. These jobs are usually high demanding in working hours, requiring management of teams, clients and superiors. For women who achieve such positions, it may also coincide with motherhood period, making it even more challenging if companies do not provide adequate working arrangements — such as flexible working options leveraging technology, childcare support, mentoring and leadership support for women, business resource groups and diversity and inclusion efforts and training. Women in the workforce have an undeniable power to make meaningful contributions and expand businesses. When financial institutions and governments begin to focus on the strategies required to get talented women working and leading, they will begin to see positive results. Not only can influential women bring business acumen to help grow organizations, but their roles in societies also enable them to make significant improvements in education, communities and the transformation of countries. Sources: 1. "The 50 Most Influential Women in Middle East Finance," Financial News, 29 Apr. 2019, https://www.fnlondon.com/articles/the-50-most-influential-women-in-middle-east-finance-20190429. 2. "FN 50 Middle East Women 2019," Financial News, 2019,https://lists.fnlondon.com/fn50/women_in_finance_/2019/?mod=lists-profile. 3. "Rania Nashar," Forbes, 2018,https://www.forbes.com/profile/rania-nashar/#20d8136e473c. 4. Masige, Sharon. "Raising the Bar: Rania Nashar," The CEO Magazine, 27 Jun. 2019,https://www.theceomagazine.com/executive-interviews/finance-banking/rania-nashar/ 5. "Lubna Olayan Retires as CEO of Olayan Financing Co.; Jonathan Franklin Named New CEO," Olayan, 29 Apr. 2019, https://olayan.com/lubna-olayan-retires-ceo-olayan-financing-co-jonathan-franklin-named-new-ceo. 6. "Gender and Women's Mental Health: The Facts," World Health Organization, https://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/genderwomen/en/#:~:targetText=Unipolar%20depression%2C%20predicted%20to%20be,persistent%20in%20women%20than%20men. 7. "The Cut: Exploring Financial Wellness Within Diverse Populations," Prudential, 2018, http://news.prudential.com/content/1209/files/PrudentialTheCutExploringFinancialWellnessWithinDiversePopulations.pdf.

Amy Scissons | 28 Nov 2019

What does it take to lead successful international teams? Successful teams are often united over a common goal and a shared set of experiences. But, as the workforce becomes more distributed and business travel becomes increasingly burdensome to the bottom line and detrimental to the environment, leaders need to be more creative in developing and fostering positive team dynamics. With fewer face-to-face meetings, how are international leaders coalescing their teams? Here are four habits I have adopted that you should consider in managing international teams: Habit 1: Remove the Mentality of "You Need to Be There"   Technology is, without a doubt, the game changer when it comes to international team effectiveness. Yet, human-led organizations often struggle to accommodate and leverage the speedy and persistent nature of change brought by digital technologies. There are, of course, times when face-to-face meetings are required; however, Mercer has noticed clients are demonstrating an increasing comfort level with holding seminars, conferences and other traditional in-person interactions via online meeting platforms. Though the virtual workforce trend is nothing new, it has reached an inflection point where clients often prefer to partner with companies that actively internalize the power and practicality of being agile, versatile and virtual. Today's transformative Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) urge their C-suite peers to adopt have this mindset and leverage differentiating new technologies. As managers, marketing leaders will find that their employees and marketing teams are more productive and online more, if allowed to do their work on their own time. People react well to not only managing their work but also having the flexibility to set their own schedules. At Mercer, we have seen our people work with more excitement, passion and collaborative enthusiasm when provided the freedom to excel according to their personal cadences. Let talented people do what they need to do to get stuff done. Habit 2: Cross-Cultural Communication With International Teams   With the direction set and the team empowered to find their path forward, it's time to focus on communication. Different cultures, of course, perceive, process and interpret information and context differently. These differences can create communication breakdowns that are extremely costly in terms of time, quality and money. Effective messaging is direct and only refers to limited but critical pieces of information that necessitate a particular email, phone call or conversation. Inspiring leaders find their voice and communicate in a way that is simple, memorable and supportive. All correspondences among international teams should be carefully packaged, contained and well thought out. Don't underestimate the power of repetition. Often, when dealing with team members from multiple cultures and languages, repetition of established goals, processes, timelines and expectations is vital to successful outcomes. Repetition, when done with tact and clear intentions, is not disrespectful or seen as micromanaging. It bolsters the ability of everyone on the team to achieve their goals (honestly, I find repetition extremely helpful. By the time I'm reminded what we're trying to get done three or four times — especially in a few different ways — it sticks!). When you're dealing with cross-border teams, never assume that everyone fully understands the strategy and desired results on the first two or three discussions. Using repetition creatively helps the team focus on the north star. Habit 3: Be Succinct and Culturally Aware   Cultural awareness is learned. It took me a while to appreciate and understand the nuances of each member of my team, not only in their approach to solving problems, but the influence of their culture on their overall outlook. Our research on diversity and inclusion points to the value of ensuring all voices are heard on the team. As a matter of fact, there are a range of products today designed to enable employees to share their perspectives (separate from employee engagement surveys) — and many of these are being tailored for D&I purposes. With international teams, this lesson is particularly punctuated. When team members in Tokyo, Taiwan and Mexico City are speaking to each other, ensuring they use the same direct, simple and familiar language increases efficiency and the likelihood of success. Being culturally sensitive and aware is incredibly important. Years ago, I used to feel very concerned if people were not speaking up in marketing meetings or weren't instantly on video conferences showing their face, but I realized over time that people need to communicate in ways that make sense to them. As a leader, I've learned it is my responsibility to respect other people's learning and working styles and that — if I did that — these individuals would become increasingly more open and trusting of me. Marketing leaders have to earn trust, just like everyone else. It is important to not expect that people think and act the way you think and act. People come from different perspectives and have different personality types — from introverts to extroverts and everything in between. And that diversity is instrumental to success. Habit 4: Lead With Genuine Positivity   My favorite habit, is bringing my whole self to work. As leaders, we must make a conscious effort to be encouraging and find genuine, sincere ways to boost people's confidence. This takes time and awareness as each person behaves according to varying types of motivations, instructions and sensibilities. As a company, we have to be demanding, because we have aggressive goals. However, the most effective and rewarding route to achieving those goals is by making the conscious decision to encourage employees as they execute their responsibilities — especially during challenging times. Regardless of gender, race or nationality, I think that one overriding universal truth is that people respond more graciously, productively and passionately to authentic positive feedback and encouragement. I know this personally, because I have benefited from positive reinforcement many times in my career — often when I needed it the most — from my peers, colleagues and fellow team members. It really helps. In fact, the most successful leaders I know and have worked with are extremely positive people. Teams and individuals need to be reminded, particularly during tough times, that they are doing excellent work and they are moving in the right direction. Never underestimate how much a genuine comment, like "You're doing a great job" and "Keep going" can do for someone who feels overwhelmed, underappreciated or unmotivated at a particular moment in their career. Positivity is all about appreciating the time and work employees invest into success and giving them credit for their efforts and accomplishments. Originally published in Thrive Global.

back_to_top