Rapid changes to working conditions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic have exposed gaps in the ability of organisations to respond to risks associated with their workforces, according to a new report by Mercer Marsh Benefits (MMB). Conducted a year after the declaration of the pandemic, UK respondents in the global survey of over 1,300 HR and risk management professionals ranked deteriorating mental health; cybersecurity, and talent attraction, retention and engagement as the top people-related risks facing firms.
According to the report, Turning people risk into a business opportunity*’, the main barriers to addressing these issues were a lack of senior leadership engagement and a lack of skilled resources to understand and address the exposures. The survey catergorised 25 people risks into five main categories of people risks (health & safety; governance & financial; accelerated digitisation; talent practices; environmental & social) with each risk allocated a risk rating score – a combination of likelihood and impact ratings – to assess the overall threat posed to an organisation.
Globally, cybersecurity was ranked as the top people-related risk. However, mental health deterioration was the top risk issue for UK respondents, reflecting the considerable progress made in recognising and destigmatising mental health issues. Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is named the fourth highest people-related risk, highlighting the focus from many firms in getting this right on the back of ongoing world events that have put the spotlight on race and gender inequity. This latter point is also reflected in recent research from MMB and the Reward & Employee Benefits Association, where DEI was seen to be the number one challenge facing organisations in 2021.
Interestingly, communicable health conditions were not considered a top ten risk in the UK despite the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The report revealed some blind spots for organisations with talent practices and accelerated digitisation named as the two overarching risk areas with the lowest focus. Limited focus on these areas will create longer term issues if not addressed as organisations struggle to find the workforce to compete in key growth sectors.
While globally HR and risk departments were fully aligned on cyber and talent as the top two risks, HR respondents identified succession and key person risk as the third most important; a threat that did not appear in the top 10 for risk managers. In the UK, both HR professionals and risk managers scored talent attraction, retention and engagement and deteriorating mental health in their top three risks. Despite this consensus, it may be that the rationale for such scoring differs as between UK HR professionals and risk managers. For instance, risk managers may have in mind the risk of employee claims against employers whilst HR may be thinking of maximising employee potential; and both are relevant. The important element is that both agendas are aligned, creating opportunities for both teams to collaborate and create a greater impact.
“Despite deteriorating mental health being highlighted as a top concern to UK businesses, engagement among executive leadership and board level accountability remains low,” said Chris Bailey, Partner and UK&I Consulting Leader, Mercer Marsh Benefits. “This is particularly worrying as the UK COVID-19 restrictions end and businesses start asking employees to return to workplaces. Now more than ever the wellbeing and mental health of colleagues should be on boardroom agendas. For people related risks to be dealt with effectively, management need to be genuinely engaged and give them the necessary attention. HR teams and risk management professionals must work together and consider the strategies they have in place to mitigate these key risks and, if they don’t look robust, redesign processes, policies and provisions for the future.”