Retire

Automation Is Making Forced Retirement a Thing of the Past – Finally!

16 October, 2018
  • Neil Narale

    Partner and Singapore Business Leader, Mercer Marsh Benefits

  • Billy Wong

    Hong Kong Health and Mandatory Provident Fund Leader

article-img
“For employees 65 years old or older, the future is bright as technology & automation continue to accommodate the needs, skills and talents of aging employees.”

Forced retirement is an outdated idea. It belongs in the past with movie rental stores, screeching dial-up Internet and unwieldy roadmaps that never quite fold back into shape. We live in different times, and workplaces must adapt to generations that are living longer, smarter and more productively. Forcing men and women to retire at a certain age is not only unfair, but shortsighted. Today, people have so much more value to offer businesses, society and themselves long after their mid-sixties.

Aging Isn’t What It Used to Be
 

Many workplace cultures and employment guidelines have not kept pace with developments in technology, automation and evolutions in human development. People live and age very differently today than they did not too long ago.

For a little perspective, consider the following life expectancy statistics for the year 1965 in the following countries:

Now, let’s look at those same countries in 2016

These numbers are staggering. In a mere 51 years, across growth economies and the world, the human race has dramatically increased its collective life expectancy, which is transforming everything about what it means to be a person—including how we work, raise our families and determine exactly what a job means to our lives. For employees 65 years old or older, the future is bright as technology and automation continue to accommodate the needs, skills and talents of aging employees. 

Automation in an Era of Aging Workforces
 

For decades, traditional employees have followed regimented work schedules that demand they show up to work in the morning and leave later that day, or even that evening. Then, when an employee reaches the age of 65 (or the determined retirement age of their respective country), that regimen suddenly stops, and they are forced into a life of retirement—the logic being that people over a certain age can no longer function at peak capacity; besides, nobody wants to spend the later years in life working. Times have changed. For many professionals, work is not only a job, but a way to connect with others, demonstrate value to society and keep one’s mental and intellectual faculties sharp, engaged and growing. 

Automation, fortunately, is disrupting the retirement dynamic. Advanced technologies and human capital management software are allowing companies to hire, schedule and pay retired workers in new ways that suit their lifestyles. Many companies are leveraging the value of older workers by employing them in more limited capacities as mentors, teachers and role models to younger employees. Instead of being unwillingly mandated into retirement, older workers can be part of flexible workforces comprised of semi-retired employees. Employers also benefit because they no longer have the binary choice of keeping an aging worker on as a full-time employee or losing them completely to retirement. This allows employers to maintain access to the incredible institutional knowledge and value older workers possess, while also enabling older workers to remain engaged with their professional responsibilities and colleagues. 

In Conclusion: Automation and the Future of Work
 

Careers are a lifetime investment. For too long, obsolete workplace policies have unfairly severed hardworking professionals from the joys and rewards of their livelihoods. Not only is automation helping to keep aging employees connected to their careers, but it is also opening up opportunities for older workers to prepare younger employees for change. If human life expectancy can evolve so significantly in 51 years—not even a lifetime for most—then those who witnessed that change, and who were part of that lifetime, have the invaluable experience and wisdom that comes with age. Automation will continue to transform the way human beings work, but it will never make knowledge, talent and experience irrelevant. Though the future of work may see fewer repetitive jobs and low-level skills, it will always require the perspective, insights and guidance from those who have come before. In the future, turning 65 years old will be a reason to celebrate one’s career, and not say goodbye to it. 

More in Retire

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

Anil Lobo | 27 Jun 2019

Supplementary retirement savings plans can provide security and stability for older people who no longer have a steady paycheck — and India's National Pension System (NPS) aims to do just that. NPS is a supplementary Defined Contribution pension plan, and subscription to the scheme is purely voluntary in nature. Like most of the world, India's population is aging, and lifespans are increasing. As a result of improved health and sanitation conditions, the global life expectancy is forecast to increase from an average of 65 years in 1990 to 77 years by 2050.1 For most people, living longer means more non-working years to enjoy. But for growing numbers of people around the world, maintaining enough income to live comfortably during those non-working years is expected to be a challenge. Not only are most older people no longer earning income, but as the years advance, the cost of living and inflation continue to increase. As government leaders around the world consider ways to help citizens prepare for retirement, they can look to India's NPS as a model for boosting retirement savings and helping aging workers avoid poverty during old age. The Basics of India's National Pension System   In 2004, the Indian government launched its National Pension System with the goal of providing retirement income to its citizens.2 The system aims to institute pension reform and foster the habit of saving for retirement. Initially, the program was made available for government employees only, but in 2009, NPS became available on a supplementary basis for all Indian citizens between the ages of 18 and 60. A Tier I NPS account (a mandatory account offering tax benefits) is designed in such a way that it discourages early withdrawal until the account owner reaches retirement age. If the account owner intends to withdraw before retirement age, they are allowed to withdraw only 20%, and the balance has to be used to purchase annuity. The NPS offers a decent tax benefit for its participants — contributions are made before taxes — but a portion of withdrawals are subject to taxes. On reaching the retirement age, one can withdraw 60% of accumulations, which are tax free, and the balance of 40% has to be utilized to purchase annuity from approved annuity providers. One can defer the withdrawal and stay invested until the age of 70 or continue to make fresh contributions, if desired. Tier II NPS accounts provide voluntary savings options without stiff exit penalties or lock-ins. There is a proposal to provide some tax benefits under Tier II NPS, which would require a lock-in period of three years; however, this proposal is yet to be confirmed. Since the launch of the system, the Indian government has created additional social security programs to encourage retirement saving, especially among the working poor. In 2010, the government's Swavalamban Scheme committed to depositing 1,000 rupees into the accounts of each saver who contributed 1,000 to 12,000 rupees into their own account annually and was not covered by a government or employer pension. But in 2015, that plan was scrapped in favor of the Atal Pension Yojana (APY), which guarantees defined pension distributions during retirement for savers who meet certain qualifications based on their contributions. APY also offered a government contribution of 50% of the saver's total contribution or 1,000 rupees per year, whichever is lower, for a period of five years (from 2015 to 2020). India's NPS has gone through a few iterations and continues to evolve, but the plan is helping to boost retirement savings among Indian citizens. It's also shifting citizens' expectations: Instead of relying on younger family members to support them in their old age, many are now adjusting their savings and preparing to support themselves in their retirement years. On top of that, NPS is one of the cheapest investment products. Overall costs of the NPS are far lower than those of other products, and it is perhaps the cheapest pension product available. 3 Lessons You Can Learn From India's Model   For organizational leaders around the world, India's experiment in providing a national pension program for all its citizens offers a number of valuable lessons. 1. Unsustainable National Debt Requires New Solutions   Long before the NPS was launched, India's federal and state government employees were covered by a tax-funded defined benefit pension program that provided a 50% replacement wage at retirement with an inflation-linked adjustment. In the mid-1980s, this program cost the country less than $0.5 billion annually, but by 2006, with people living longer, the price tag jumped to more than $600 billion per year.3 Maintaining the program was unsustainable, and leaders realized they needed to develop a replacement program to ensure successful retirements for future workers and protect the nation's finances. Since the launch of NPS, all new government employees have been enrolled in it, fostering a responsibility among workers to prepare for their own retirement and protecting the government from continuing to run up unsustainable pension debt. 2. Tax Advantages Are Key for Supplementary Retirement Savings Plans   Most participants choose to invest in the NPS due to the tax benefits. However, some Indian citizens report that they did not opt for participating in the NPS as they perceived that some mutual fund instruments and private retirement savings vehicles have greater potential to beat the market and also provide better tax benefits. In order to encourage citizens and promote NPS, the government developed three categories of tax-saving options. The third of these options is exclusively for salaried employees whose contributions are made through the corporate model of NPS. All three categories can be availed together and exclusive of each other. Moreover, there was a recent relaxation in the tax-free withdrawal limit of corpus allowed at the time of retirement (from an earlier limit of 40% of corpus to 60% of corpus). Originally, though 60% was allowed to be withdrawn, the balance of 20% was taxed at normal rates, and making it entirely tax free has made it even more attractive. While a few senior executives may have access to other retirement savings plans, including employer-sponsored Defined Contribution superannuation plans, most of the population (particularly among the working class) do not have access to other retirement savings plans, and hence, the tax advantages inherent in NPS are crucial encouragement for them to save for retirement. 3. Citizens Need Education About the Model's Benefits   While the NPS offers a number of benefits to savers, participation rates remain relatively low.4 Some respondents to a recent survey revealed that not understanding the importance of saving and the advantages of compounding interest could have influenced their choice to stay out. NPS leaders have used a variety of methods for communicating and educating the population about the system. For instance, pilot programs staged in two different geographic areas hosted workshops, meetings and camps targeting unorganized sector workers and key stakeholders. Information was also distributed through cable television networks, radio, mobile publicity vans, seminars and road shows. India continues to measure the success of its pension program and may make more changes in the future. Many countries are struggling to solve the potential challenge of poverty in old age, but the NPS in India is an encouraging step toward protecting the future for many of its citizens, and it's worth taking a look at the model for inspiration. Sources: 1. United Nations: Department of Economic and Social Affairs,"World Population Prospects — 2017 Revision: Global life expectancy," United Nations: Department of Public Information, June 21, 2017, https://www.un.org/development/desa/publications/graphic/wpp2017-global-life-expectancy./ 2. "National Pension System — Retirement Plan for All," National Portal of India, October 22, 2018, https://www.india.gov.in/spotlight/national-pension-system-retirement-plan-all. 3. Kim, Cheolsu; MacKellar, Landis; Galer, Russel G.; Bhardwaj, Guatam, "Implementing an Inclusive and Equitable Pension Reform," Asian Development Bank and Routledge, 2012, https://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/publication/29796/implementing-pension-reform-india.pdf. 4.Zaidi, Babar, "5 Reasons Why Investors Stay Away From NPS. But Should You?" The Economic Times, December 27, 2018, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/wealth/invest/5-reasons-why-investors-stay-away-from-nps-but-should-you/articleshow/61890679.cms.

David Anderson | 03 Apr 2019

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

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.

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