Defining future workforce needs, upskilling and reinventing flexibility top of mind in 2021 for Hong Kong firms, says Mercer’s new study


Hong Kong, 31 March, 2021 – The COVID-19 pandemic is driving a fundamental shift in the way companies operate, accelerating the need for an adaptable and agile workforce to bolster business success.


According to Mercer’s 2021 Global Talent Trends study, the pandemic has spurred employers in Hong Kong to focus on defining future of work by restructuring (55%) and active reskilling in 2021 (53%) to best position their business and workforce for recovery.


Also top of mind is reinventing flexibility (35%) across all aspects including policies, practices and benefits that will enable organisations to support people in their careers and wellbeing, and deliver a better overall employee experience (EX). Enabling these priorities is also the increased use of HR analytics to inform strategies and decision-making, as well as drive business value.


Defining future of work and upskilling for business success

The potential scale and unpredictability of disruption demands that companies transform at pace to stay ahead of competition. According to Mercer’s survey, more than half of the employers in Hong Kong are assessing longer-term organizational structures and workforce needs in 2021. As flexible/ hybrid working models become the norm, 78% of companies in Hong Kong have implemented or are planning to implement more alignment between structures (methods, processes and systems) while ensuring that inclusivity is also embedded in the culture (values and behaviors), compared to 84% globally.

As new ways of working require new skills, companies in Hong Kong are focused on identifying new skills and capabilities needed for post-COVID operations (53%); targeted workforce upskilling of critical talent pools (41%); and expanding their talent and learning eco-system (39%). One in three companies are also intensifying the development of remote working skills with an emphasis on virtual collaboration, while 48% plan to improve HR analytics for learning and skill acquisition.


There are opportunities to get ahead of the race to reskill/ upskill. While 44% of firms in Hong Kong (compared with 42% globally) have already or plan to implement skill-based talent strategies such as a skills framework, just 6% of HR leaders, (compared to 14% of their global peers) are planning to move to pay-for-skills structures.


Brian Sy, Head of Career Products and Total Rewards of Mercer Hong Kong, said, “Reskilling and upskilling are a clear transformation priority for companies in Hong Kong in 2021, on the back of rapid technological advances and the new roles they bring. Beyond just having a clear view of the skill gaps within their organisations, companies need to have a strategy to encourage skill adoption and learning.


“Skills are the new currency in the future of work; for skills-based talent strategies to work, employees need to see that learning new skills leads to tangible rewards, recognition or promotion – an area where Hong Kong companies can do better in, given that only 14% plan to reward skill acquisition.”

Reinventing Responsibility and Flexibility


The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged organizations to consider a broader set of interests beyond that of shareholders and to re-examine their responsibilities to multiple stakeholders, including employees. Despite the financial impact of the pandemic, many employers stepped up in 2020 to protect jobs and where possible, incomes – a departure from previous downtowns. The pandemic has also brought ESG to the forefront, with 69% of Hong Kong HR leaders reported that their company has continued or  quickened the pace towards an ESG and multi-stakeholder business approach, with 63% saying they align ESG goals to company purpose.

In considering how to better support employees with new ways of working and at different life stages, 67% of Hong Kong companies, compared to 60% of global peers, are using design thinking and interactive processes such as persona workshops and experience mapping to co-create new employee experiences. Seven in 10 Hong Kong firms, compared to 65% globally, are also reexamining what benefits are most relevant to different employee persona groups.


With flexible working as the new norm, 84% of Hong Kong employers (compared to 90% globally) say they will expand and enhance flexible working policies and practices, while 27% say they will focus on reinventing flexibility and careers. 42% plan to improve HR analytics for performance data related to flexible working. On what would drive the greatest impact on flexible working in Hong Kong, employers stated visible instances of career progression for flexible workers (44%) and access to remote health and benefits options (35%).


The report also revealed that companies in Hong Kong are lagging when it comes to meeting the inter-generational needs of their workforce, such as offering older, more experienced workers flexible career pathways. None of the Hong Kong companies currently use or plan to look into investing in analytics to predict when older workers with critical skills are likely to retire. Only 12% allow for phased retirement.


Vicki Fan, CEO, Hong Kong, Mercer said, “The pandemic has significantly impacted the nature of work and the workplace, with most companies now working towards adopting a more agile model to gain competitive advantage. COVID-19 has also proven the ability to rapidly adjust capacity and redeploy resources is critical to business continuity and resilience, and this is reflected in our findings that companies are making internal talent pools more sharable and  re-examining the workforce flexibility.


“Our research also underscores the importance of viewing work and people through a skills- and output-based lens. Prioritizing skills over tasks, output over processes, means employers can not only act quickly in the face of disruption, but also build more meaningful careers and experiences for their employees.”

Other findings from Mercer’s Global Talent Trends Survey:

  • Healthy people equals healthy business. 47% of companies already use or plan to improve employee health and wellbeing analytics, but just 24% share data on the impact of cost decisions on health and engagement.
  •  Resource and talent sharing. 41% of companies made it easier to share talent internally as a result of COVID-19, and a further 29% plan to do so in 2021.
  • Sense with science. HR leaders plan to improve their analytics capabilities to support learning and skill acquisition (24%); strategic workforce planning (37%); and performance data related to flexible working (24%)
  • Race to reskill/ upskill. The top five skills Hong Kong employers have identified as being critical to future resiliency include adaptability and growth mindset (57%); collaboration (47%); self-management and prioritisation skills (45%); digital dexterity (33%) and openness to learning new skills (25%).



About Mercer’s Global Talent Trends study

The sixth edition of Mercer’s Global Talent Trends (2021) study shares insights from over 7,300 senior business executives, HR leaders and employees and, for the first time, has deep dive Companion Reports for 23 geographies, spanning 44 countries. To download the Global report, visit here. To download the Hong Kong edition, visit here.


About Mercer

Mercer believes in building brighter futures by redefining the world of work, reshaping retirement and investment outcomes, and unlocking real health and well-being. Mercer’s more than 25,000 employees are based in 44 countries and the firm operates in over 130 countries. Mercer is a business of Marsh McLennan (NYSE: MMC), the world’s leading professional services firm in the areas of risk, strategy and people, with 76,000 colleagues and annual revenue of over $17 billion. Through its market-leading businesses including Marsh, Guy Carpenter and Oliver Wyman, Marsh & McLennan helps clients navigate an increasingly dynamic and complex environment. For more information, visit Follow Mercer on Twitter @Mercer.