Talent attraction, retention and engagement is top workforce risk for companies in Asia: Mercer Marsh Benefits study

Cybersecurity and data privacy are ranked second and third respectively.


Philippines, 2 August 2021 – Talent attraction, retention and engagement has emerged as the top workforce risk and the most pertinent threat for employers in Asia. Cybersecurity and data privacy were ranked second and third respectively.


This is according to The Five Pillars of People Risk: Managing risks for workforce and business resilience, a new report by Mercer Marsh Benefits (MMB) which surveyed 1,380+ participants globally, including HR professionals and Risk Managers across Asia.


The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the transformation of work and workplaces and reshaped employer and employee expectations, heightening people risks related to talent management, technology adoption, business continuity and culture. Companies’ ability to address these threats adequately will be crucial for protecting business operations, revenue, reputation, and talent acquisition.


Asia’s Top Workforce Risks and Implications


72% of respondents in Asia ranked talent attraction, retention and engagement as a serious and top risk for their organisation. Asia is faced with a growing shortage of skilled workers, exacerbated by widespread societal aging as well as rapid advances in artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and other emerging technologies that are transforming jobs and the skills needed to do them. The World Economic Forum1 estimates that more than half of all employees will require significant reskilling in the next three years.


Adding to this challenge is the ongoing disruption brought on by the pandemic, which will keep business strategies highly dynamic, adding complexity to ongoing talent needs. While HR plays a critical role in shaping policies to restructure the workforce, reskill employees and redesign the work experience, only 18.9% of the respondents reflected that this responsibility lies with HR. Failure by companies to create a strong talent pipeline, compelling employee value proposition and to reskill and upskill to future-ready their employees will lead to an unmotivated workforce and the loss of key talent.


Teng Alday, Mercer’s CEO in the Philippines, said, “Driven by increasing healthcare costs, employee benefits and well-being programs continue to take center-stage for companies in the Philippines. While utilization rates are down due to the pandemic, employers need to move beyond activity and usage metrics to understand what affects their employees most and examine if they are deriving the greatest value from their benefits. To help employees adapt to new shape of work, they can use digital care services to promote health goals and add benefits to address mental or emotional health issues. Companies who design benefits that truly benefit in this climate, will be able to attract and retain talent, improve employee productivity and drive long-term success.”


58.9% of respondents in Asia acknowledged the severe impact cybersecurity would have on the business and nearly half (47.2%) considered data privacy having the potential to cause severe impacts to the business. This aligns with the increasingly sophisticated and frequent cybercrimes that have elevated these risks on the C-suite agenda.


Businesses with disparate digital systems across geographies or organizational functions increase their exposure to cyberattacks. The breaches which occur due to poor vendor and people management processes can cause severe business interruption and brand reputation damage.


Commenting on the findings, Joan Collar, Managing Director, Asia Regional Leader, MMB, said: “The pandemic has accelerated people risks to the top of the pedometer for Risk Managers. Poorly designed employee benefit plans can undermine the health and engagement of employees and not to mention, the employer branding of a firm. It is critical that health is made a business imperative with strong support from risk managers, finance as well as the executive sponsors alongside HR. Firms need to plan ahead for the design, delivery and financing of solutions that enhance access to quality healthcare.“


Asia’s Blind Spots


Overall, the top 3 risks in Asia were similar to the global ranking, although Asia was the only region to rank talent attraction, retention and engagement as the top risk. While workforce exhaustion and deteriorating mental health were identified as two of the top 10 risks globally, they were not considered as top 10 risks in Asia.


According to Mercer’s Healthy Minds at Work report in 2020, stress levels of employees have tripled since the onset of the pandemic. High work demands have emerged as the top driver of stress across workplaces in Asia. Failure to recognise and address workforce exhaustion and deteriorating mental health as critical risks can lead to errors and omissions that result in potential cybersecurity breaches, high employee turnover and reduced productivity.


Based on the survey findings, employers in Asia need to do more in this area. Only half of the respondents (50.3%) saw workforce exhaustion as having a significant impact on businesses with only 58.9% indicating they are addressing the risk to great or some extent. As for deteriorating mental health, only four in 10 (41.1%) acknowledged the potential severe impact on their organizations, with 56.4% addressing the risk to great or some extent.


Another blind spot is non-communicable health conditions (NCDs) which is one of the risks with the lowest extent of being addressed. NCDs are the leading causes of death and disability globally and is estimated to have caused 10.4 million deaths in South-East Asia. Health On Demand, a research conducted by Mercer Marsh Benefits, Mercer and Oliver Wyman, found that 43% of both employers and employees want a more ‘pro-health’ environment at work, and more than half of senior decision makers agreed that health and well-being investment would be a greater priority for their organizations in the future. These findings show the opportunity for employers to play a more active role in helping their workforce to achieve better health outcomes, and get the unprecedented ability to achieve a competitive advantage.  


The Five Pillars of People Risk report also examined the core barriers preventing organizations from tackling their people-related risks. Across all areas of risk, a lack of senior leadership engagement and skilled resources to understand and address risks were the two primary difficulties highlighted. This underscored the disconnect between what firms say they are prioritizing, and the resources being allocated to address the risks.


There is nothing more critical to the health of a business than the health of its people. The pandemic has highlighted opportunities – and a need – for companies to reevaluate their approach to supporting employees, be it through more effective benefit plans, a sharper focus on reskilling and upskilling their workforce or creating higher value jobs through job redesign. Leading companies who seize the opportunity will create meaningful and measurable impact not just for their employees but also their stakeholders and society.


1 https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/03/the-digital-skills-gap-is-widening-fast-heres-how-to-bridge-it/


Notes to editors


  • Survey respondents were asked to assess the likelihood of the risk occurring in their organization in the next 3 years on a scale of 1 to 5, 1 representing a risk that is unlikely and 5 a risk that is very likely to occur.
    They were also asked to assess the severity of the risk’s impact on the business if it were to occur on a scale of 1 to 5, 1 representing a no impact and 5 a catastrophic impact. The overall risk threat is the product of the likelihood and the severity ratings.
  • MMB pulse survey completed in April among 1,380+ participants globally, 46% of which were HR professionals and 54% Risk Managers.


About Mercer Marsh Benefits

Mercer Marsh Benefits (MMB) was born out of the unification of one of the world’s best HR consultancies, the global leader in people risk advisory and the number one disruptive benefits technology firm to form one unique business. Together they have shaped some of the world’s most loved employee benefit experiences for small companies, growing enterprises and global firms. MMB is 7,000 strong, on the ground in 73 countries, and servicing clients in more than 150 countries. It brings local expertise to more places and works side-by-side with clients, and Mercer and Marsh colleagues around the world. Mercer and Marsh are two businesses of Marsh McLennan (NYSE: MMC), together with Guy Carpenter and Oliver Wyman. With 76,000 colleagues and annual revenue of $17 billion, through its market-leading companies Marsh McLennan helps clients navigate an increasingly dynamic and complex environment.

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