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NEARLY 7 in 10 employees  across Asia say not being able to work remotely or hybrid permanently is a deal breaker when considering whether to join or stay with an organization, according to Mercer’s 2022 Global Talent Trends Study.

“One in three employees in Asia are willing to forgo pay increases to be able to work flexibly, closely followed by well-being benefits,”read the statement released by Mercer on Wednesday.  Meanwhile, one in two employees across Asia emphasize that the future of work is about balance—“fitting work around life and no longer life around work.”

Compared to 2020, the study reported, employees nowadays say they are more likely to stay with their employer due to “life” related factors, such as flexibility and time off, compared to “work” related factors such as career progression and development.

However, according to the global trends study, 89 percent of executives in Asia are concerned about the impact of permanent hybrid and remote working, especially when it comes to the ability to build and maintain colleague relationships. Moreover, 7 in 10 also believe fundamentally that work gets done in an office, not remotely.

With 48 percent of organizations in Asia saying they are having difficulty in scaling up and sustaining hybrid work, there is significant work to be done in evolving their flexible work culture.

In fact, Puneet Swani, Career Business Leader, Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa (AMEA), Mercer, said “Employers need to bridge the gap in expectations and embrace new, flexible models to cultivate a workforce that can design their own careers. Those who find that balance and align their policies to the wants and needs of their employees will not only boost the motivation and engagement of their existing workers, but also will win the best talent.”

Burnout

It’s also worthy to note that on total well-being, eight in 10 employees are at risk of burnout.

“The percentage of energized employees has dropped significantly from 74 percent in 2019 to 63 percent this year—the lowest level in the study’s seven-year history,” the news statement read, citing data from Mercer’s 2022 Global Talent Trends Study. Moreover, across Asia, the number dipped to 56 percent and 44 percent specifically for Japan and Singapore respectively, well below the regional average of 68 percent.

Meanwhile, 8 in 10 employees in Asia, including an overwhelming 95 percent in Hong Kong, feel at risk of burnout this year. With nearly 98 percent organizations planning significant transformation this year, the collective fatigue could put these plans at risk. Yet only one in four executives and HR leaders in Asia view employee exhaustion as a threat to transformation or driver for attrition.

Swani, the career business leader, said facing organizational problems head-on will be key in the companies’ successful transformation. Swani said, “The silver lining is that one in three executives in Asia see prioritizing employee well-being as the people initiative that will deliver the greatest ROI in the next two years. As companies transform, it will be critical to rethink the employee experience and their well-being strategy more holistically and inclusively. Enhancing digital adoption, improving the communication of strategic vision, and addressing organizational complexity will be key.”

On employability, 97 percent of companies see significant skill gaps, according to the study.

“The pandemic supercharged companies’ race to reskill, with organizations globally investing more than US$2,800 per learner in reskilling last year, up from US$1,400 in 2020,” the statement read.

However, the study noted that it is unclear if the investment is paying off. Moreover, it’s worthy to note that nearly all (95 percent) employees in Asia reported recently learning a new skill, yet a staggering 97 percent of companies report significant skill gaps in their organization.

While providing opportunities to reskill and upskill is top of the people agenda of organizations in Asia in 2022, barriers remain. Specifically, lack of time aside, at 36 percent, one in four employees said they are not sure which skills to focus on as well as where to go to learn a new skill for work.

In fact, HR leaders, too, have their reservations. They find it difficult to keep up with the pace of change and emerging skill needs at 37 percent. The HR leaders also find it hard to identify 36 percent of employees with the most potential to effectively leverage new skills. Lastly, the HR leaders are concerned that 35 percent of the upskilled talent will leave the firm.

With this, the study noted that addressing skill gaps is more pressing than ever for organizations to realize their strategy, meet evolving business needs and ensure the employability of their talent well into the future. The good news, it added, is that HR leaders in Asia are looking to build skills internally rather than acquiring talent, a significant development from pre- pandemic.

Further, the HR leaders in Asia are seeing the greatest impact, at 42 percent, from targeted learning investments and experiential learning through international rotations at 42 percent.

Swani stressed that “despite an uptick in experimentation during the pandemic to close the skills gap, companies in Asia and their employees are still very much in the learning phase.”

He added that employers should focus on figuring out how they can offer more opportunities for employees to pick up new skills and make rewarding skill acquisition more visible throughout the organization.

Mercer is a business of Marsh McLennan, the world’s leading professional services firm in the areas of risk, strategy and people, with 83,000 colleagues and annual revenue of approximately $20 billion. It believes in building brighter futures by redefining the world of work, reshaping retirement and investment outcomes, and unlocking real health and well-being.