Sylvia Pozezanac



Wolfgang Seidl

Workplace Health Consulting Leader

Sam Hall

Director, UK Wealth Consulting


David Wreford

Partner, Employee Experience Consulting

Employee expectations have evolved and matured during the crisis


Our latest webcast, on dealing with the impact of the coronavirus, brought together a panel of Mercer experts, chaired by Sylvia Pozezanac, our UK CEO, to discuss the challenges associated with transitioning from the ‘shut down’ phase to the ‘restart’ phase.


“I hosted the first of these webcasts back in March, when we were about to embark on the lockdown, so 14 webcasts later it feels good to be discussing how we move forward in this new normal,” said Sylvia, as she asked the panel what the future of work will look like.


“We are seeing a defining moment for the future of work,” responded Dr Wolfgang Seidl, workplace health consulting leader for Mercer in the UK, “We have been reminded that what really matters is health and a new form of compassionate leadership is emerging. Employers have now reached a point of maturity. They know what works and what doesn’t. It’s not enough to provide a bowl of fruit or a mindfulness workshop. You have to design work around human needs.”


David Wreford, another partner at Mercer, echoed this: “Organisations moved to working from home literally overnight. Nothing fell over. Employees demonstrated their trustworthiness. Now they want to be master of their role and skills and to be trusted and given more of a vision and less intensive oversight.”


David believes this will lead to more ‘hybrid roles’ in future. “People who are innovative and independent have been drawn to self-employment,” he said. “Looking at employee frameworks and the changing nature of work, we know people also crave predictability of income and job stability. How can we ensure we have the right blend of entrepreneurial-minded and other workers? There’s a proposition that’s more hybrid. We can provide some things people don’t get from self-employment, like benefits and security and pensions.”


Talking of pensions, Sylvia asked if companies had been issuing communications around pension performance during the pandemic and how pensions could be made more resilient.


“We haven’t seen much communications on pension performance from companies and trustees,” said Sam Hall, one of Mercer’s directors in this area. “Pension performance becomes quickly outdated due to the huge amounts of volatility we have seen. I think we will see more communications as we move into the second half of the year with reassurance to members that pensions are a long-term investment, particularly for those members who will have seen  big drops in the value of their pension pots towards the start of the pandemic.”


Looking to the future, she said: “Trustees need to review their journey plans and investment strategies and stress-test what will happen in different scenarios, for example if there’s another pandemic or we have a second wave. Those that have delegated decision-making have generally fared better and taken advantage of investment opportunities. Trustees now need to review their governance models and see if there were any changes they could have implemented which would have benefited them.”


In response to a question about how companies can rebuild company culture in light of the changes seen, Wolfgang said: “For too long, working practices have evolved with little or no thought to underlying issues. Work environments have been put into the cloud, without considering the human aspects of work, like the need for networking and innovation. When Gen Y entered the workplace nearly 20 years ago, they wanted to work anywhere, anytime, in a way that’s finally happening now.”


He added, “Work-life balance is not a mathematical split, but it’s the integration of work and life around two existential themes, which are: being able to work and able to love! That’s what really matters. Does my workplace allow me to be successful in both?”


“We’re back to prioritising diversity and inclusion” said David, “Prior to Covid, there was a rapid increase in the rate at which organisations wanted to improve parental leave benefits, supporting women’s careers and helping fathers to get more involved because of the benefits of being involved in children’s early years. One of the effects of isolation have been more upon women’s shoulders than men’s. Employers are realising this and doing more in this area, which is a positive change.”


The future of work requires an evidence-based approach based on meaningful data, explained Wolfgang: “It requires understanding what people need to thrive, from financial wellbeing to creating a place of belonging to giving people the ability to balance work and life. We’ve been inundated with requests for upskilling managers for exactly that.”


Thanking the panel and the audience for their time, Sylvia shared a link to an Insights from China conversation she had with a fellow CEO, Catherine Li, CEO of Mercer in China, about her experiences of having already managed the return to the workplace.


“It’s been a circuit break,” explains Catherine in the video. “Most people are working harder than ever trying to make up for lost time. Leaders are looked up to in a crisis like this. They’re to make the call with a duty of care in mind towards people’s safety, wellness and future. There will be many choices, so I quote Nelson Mandela: ‘May your choice reflect your hope, not your fears.’”


Other topics discussed in the Return to the Workplace webcast included how companies should handle redundancy and increase their ability to respond to future threats.


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Find out about our free information as well as tools and resources to help your company, your pension scheme and your people along with recordings from our previous webinars.


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