Mercer's Tesantha Naidoo unpacks why execs are grappling with the talent exodus and AI revolution


Mercer’s 2024 Global Talent Trends reveals that execs grapple with talent exodus and the AI revolution, but prioritise human-centric agility, trust, and digital culture for sustainable growth. Tesantha Naidoo, principal consultant at Mercer South Africa unpacks the key findings for CHROs.

Mercer’s 2024 Global Talent Trends research is the culmination of more than 12,200 voices, including executives, investors, HR and employees, who highlighted the global shifts impacting talent and business strategies today.

For executives and HR leaders, attracting and retaining talent while balancing costs will be critical, considering that three in 10 employees plan to leave their job in the next 12 months. What this tells us, is how pervasive this challenge has become.

We’re on the cusp of a human-machine teaming revolution in how we work and how we live. It’s clear we are now past the inflection point (one in four executives say AI will fundamentally change their business model). This year, executives are most concerned about inflation, digital acceleration and the rise of alternative or distributive work models.

But what influences their three-year plans is anchored in where they are today, not where they need to be tomorrow. As we usher in an age of human/machine teaming, we need to place people at the heart of transformation efforts. With data and technology, we can create a unique employee experience that leads to a more intuitive, simplified and customised work experience.

The human age is now upon us and it will be imperative to ensure that we focus on how to keep our people, our business and our societies thriving in the years to come.

There is no doubt that executives are placing a premium on agility (something only 36 percent believe they have today). Given that only one in three feel they have the talent model to capture growth in 2024, there is a need to think more sustainably about talent models and break the cycle of churn and burn that has dominated practices in this decade.

So, how are leading companies embarking on this journey towards more agile and sustainable people practices that are fit for our time? Executives will double down on their investment in AI and reskilling and continue the path to digital transformation. High-growth organisations have made great strides in skills agility, decision agility, and digital agility.

Key themes

This year had the most staggering shifts in employee perceptions and industry priorities. There was a notable divergence between executive and HR views on what will carry their business forward in 2024.

Four key themes that emerged are:

1. Drive human-centric productivity:
98 percent of companies are planning a transformation, with the primary driver being an increase in workforce productivity. Jobs are ripe for improvement, given time spent on repetitive and creative tasks, time on up/reskilling and working on special projects and internal gigs. However, unlocking workforce productivity requires intentional, human-centric work design The top three work design changes include redesign of career models/pathways, deconstruction of jobs into tasks for reconfiguration, and creating more flexibility to add and redeploy resources.

Mercer data shows that only 13 percent of executives believe that the majority of their workforce is ready to adapt to the new world of work, if their jobs were fundamentally changed or eliminated by AI and automation. Therefore, we need to quicken the pace towards human-machine teaming.

2. Anchor to trust and equity

Over the last few years, Mercer has been talking about the rise of the relatable organisation – an organisation that comes off mute on what it values, listens intently to its people and is in service of all stakeholders (not just shareholder returns).

As the composition of the workforce changes (e.g., more millennials voice their asks), a premium is placed on trust. Our principal component analysis of employee data has shown us that trust is the most significant predictor of intent to stay, engagement, and people’s sense of thriving. This is compounded by the cost-of-living crisis where, on average, employees are losing six work hours a month to money worries.

One of the biggest differentiators this year is whether people feel they are thriving – if their employer is taking steps to safeguard and promote financial security. Ensuring that people sustainability goals are embedded in P&Ls and transformation plans will be critical to making progress.

3. Boost the corporate immune system

We are living in a heightened risk environment where people risks are business risks. A top priority for executives and HR leaders is guarding against business models and talent processes becoming brittle. Risk priorities are changing, but resilient organisations are thinking differently by proactively managing cyber risks, prioritising climate risks with a people lens and investing in technology that enhances the employee experience.

With eight out of 10 employees feeling at risk of burnout (top reasons are financial strain, exhaustion and excessive workload), it’s no surprise that HR recognises alleviating financial concerns, rethinking compensation and benefit strategies and managing mental health issues head-on is top of mind this year.

A clear blind spot is that only half of employers design work with well-being in mind. Sixty-six percent of executives say that they plan to use workforce analytics to measure human capital risks more actively (e.g., early warning signs of burnout, health outcomes, etc.), which will significantly impact their business performance.

4. Cultivate a digital first culture

One in two executives believe that their organisation will survive beyond 2030 with AI. Therefore they are moving fast to adapt, but being digital is more than just technology adoption.

Alarmingly, 67 percent of organisations adopted new technology without transforming the way they work. Executives worry about the consequences of replacing too many humans with AI or automation in their organisation; the rapid pace of technology innovation surpassing their organisation’s ability to reskill/redeploy their workforce and not doing enough to inspire workers to adopt new technologies, while employees are expecting the company to teach them the needed skills if there are changes to their jobs due to AI or automation as well as an improvement in their employee experience by making positive changes to their workload. Helping workers benefit from the digital dividend is critical to sustaining momentum for transformation.

Optimism about the future of work is palpable, from growth trajectories to the promise of AI on productivity. The key to realising these benefits will be taking a human-centric approach to work redesign and keeping people’s capacity and energy front and centre when rolling out new initiatives.


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