Six HR trends shaping the talent management landscape

06 October 2020 7 min. read

Based on interviews with more than 7,000 executives, HR leaders and employees in 16 geographies, Mercer’s ‘2020 Global Talent Trends Study’ has identified several key trends and developments that are shaping the talent landscape. A round-up of six of those HR trends that have been accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic.


The first main trend relates to a growing expectation from employees that the organisations they work for place purpose – delivering positive outcomes for society, customers, employees and shareholders – and environmental, social and governance (ESG) at the heart of their strategy and operations. Over half of executives in Mercer’s survey agree that an organisation should have a clear purpose, with 85% of respondents stating that purpose is a multi-stakeholder responsibility. 

Similarly, the majority of the C-suite agrees more needs to be done on ESG, with 68% of executives aiming to accelerate progress on ESG this year. As a result of Covid-19, consumer behaviour has changed for good – in the ‘new normal’ brands and organisations with a clear focus on purpose and ESG are touted to thrive.

Delivering on a multi-stakeholder model

Digital HR

Similar to the developments seen in other functions, the rapid rise of digital transformation is also unfolding in the HR scene, with a significant number of leaders indicating that they plan up their investments in automation. Only 29% of those said they would pull back / scale down on digital transformation due to the current downturn.

By digitising processes and activities, human resources teams can bolster their efficiency and improve the quality of delivery. Because most of the automation potential lies in tedious, repetitive tasks, digitisation can at the same time help free up time for more value-adding tasks, such as partnering with the business in a more advisory capacity.

Meanwhile, transformation of the HR technology landscape can help HR provide employees across the business with more insights (e.g. strategic workplace planning), interventions to improve productivity (e.g. engagement surveys) and real time access to information (e.g. self-service platforms). 

Future of work priorities for HR in 2020

Employee experience

Delivering on the employee experience already was and remains a top priority for HR in the coming year. 58% percent of organisations are redesigning their structures to become more people-centric. 

Delivering on this aspiration requires HR to step out of its traditional functional silos. To this end, around half of HR respondents said that they have moved away from traditional structures to meet their businesses’ escalating need for agility and 26% say they have built a fluid team to respond to different business priorities.

Another pre-requisite is developing an integrated people strategy, which builds on an organisation’s corporate strategy and human capital agenda. A third factor is executive support, but on this point much terrain still needs to be gained. A worryingly low 27% of the C-suite currently believes their investment in the employee experience yields a business return. Mercer’s researchers advise HR leaders to use metrics and data-driven insights to make the case for change more transparent.

Part of enhancing the employee experience includes empowering employees to make better choices in among others career development, learning & development, compensation & benefits, and other rewards. Leading companies are on the front foot of using technology such as employee and self-service platforms to help them with making better choices and gaining more control on their individual needs.

HR's strategies for filling skills gaps


With 99% of organisations saying they need to accelerate transformation in 2020, and almost all reporting significant skills gaps, the C-suite regards reskilling as a top talent investment for 2020. Illustrating how important this factor is to leaders, just 28% of respondents said they will cut back on reskilling initiatives as part of their Covid-19 cost cutting measures. In other words, reskilling is one of the investments they hope to maintain in the current downturn. 

Employees also see reskilling as an emerging part of a broader human capital agenda, including as a talent attraction and a retention driver. But, at the employer’s end, 40% of HR leaders do not know what skills their workforce possesses, and hence cannot effectively address firm-wide needs to fill roles with reskilled internal talent. The challenge is exacerbated by the fact that less than half (45%) of executives have the confidence that their workers are capable of adapting to the future of work. 

Meanwhile, at the employees’ end, although more than three-quarters of employees say they are ready to learn new skills, two in five say they lack the time to take advantage of reskilling. The burning platform is clear though –34% of employees surveyed by Mercer expect their jobs to disappear in the next three years. 

Analytics maturity level 2016-2020

Workforce analytics

Over the past five years the use of predictive analytics has nearly quadrupled, from an adoption rate of 10% in 2016 to 39% today, and the use of metrics on pay inequities and total rewards usage has more than doubled. And going forward, the use of data analytics to power strategic HR insights is only forecasted to rise, according to Mercer’s study.

Covid-19 is serving as an accelerator, with leading organisations using HR analytics to answer key downturn-related questions such as: Which strategy offers the best chance of maintaining performance? Which departments could deliver a similar level of output with more contingent staff? Where can we downsize talent to save costs? 

Across industries, organisations and the HR spectrum, Mercer highlights that HR analytics is still in its infancy. For instance, only 43% of organisations use metrics to identify employees likely to leave, 18% know the impact of pay strategies on performance, and just 12% use analytics to correct inequities and prevent them from recurring. Moreover, only 24% have data on who is at risk of burnout, and only 15% can determine whether it is better to buy/build/ borrow employees. 

How do you use AI in HR today and where are you investing tomorrow?

The use of artificial intelligence and machine learning is gaining momentum within HR teams. AI already had a relatively high adoption rate in recruitment and candidate selection, and in the coming months, artificial intelligence is slated to work its magic in pay benchmarking and career pathing, among others.

Employee well-being

Almost half (48%) of executives rank employees’ well-being as a top workforce concern. This is in part because well-being is an important determinant of productivity, and hence financial performance. Previous research by Mercer has shown that energized employees are more productive, likely to stay, more resilient to change and more adept to reskill. 

However, in a trend that has been exacerbated by Covid-19 due to the combination of job uncertainty, social distancing, remote working and quarantines, a growing percentage of employees globally feel at risk of burnout in the year ahead. 61% of employees expect their employer to look after their well-being, and specifically during Covid-19, they expect their employers to look after their health in light of hygiene regulations. 

Well-being also includes an expectation that organisations take a holistic view on careers, health and wealth. More than three-quarters (78%) of employees appreciate long-term financial planning initiatives for all generations, while older workers expect better management of their specific demands, such as winding down roles & responsibilities and being ‘in control’ of the retirement process. A rising number of employees further expects health programmes to be put into place.