South Africa, Pretoria

Today, African businesses are being shaped by the disruptive forces that are impacting collective global markets. Just one example is speed of the current advancements in technology – such as AI, robotics, autonomous transport, IoT, 3D printing and big data analytics among others.

Against this backdrop of disruption, organisations need to distinguish themselves from others in order to stand out. This is also shaping the next decade of work and if your organisation is not developing people strategies that account for these forces, prepare to be blindsided.  Despite this clear recognition, the 2017 WEF Human Capital Report highlighted the failure by business to adequately develop people’s talents. The report found that only 62% of the world’s human capital is fully developed. In Africa, Kenya with a ranking of 78, outperformed South Africa and Nigeria with rankings of 87 and 114 respectively.

Thriving organisations seek to enrich the lives of their employees — meeting their health, wealth, and career growth needs. They ensure that managers provide the personal support required to help individuals reach their potential and, as much as possible, are able to contribute to the innovation agenda. As a result, people feel connected, challenged, and empowered.

Our research clearly points to the need for employees to connect with the true purpose of the organisation, beyond profit. If organisations are able to ensure that senior leaders and employees understand the deeper purpose of why the organisation exists and then align their intent and efforts to that, more people will be able to bring their real and authentic selves to work. Furthermore, to place people at the centre of what and how you deliver work is key, not because HR says so, but because it makes business sense, more organisations will find that they not only thrive from a people perspective, but also achieve higher results.

Failure to thrive

Thriving organisations i.e. those that transform their work environment into a compelling experience, will be most successful in building the workforce of the future. According to Mercer’s latest research, “Thriving in an Age of Disruption,” which surveyed over 800 participants in 57 countries across 26 industries, only 52% of respondents said their organisations were committed to creating an environment where employees are able to THRIVE.

Why do so many organisations find it difficult to achieve the transformational work environment that will support their continued success? From our work with companies around the world, Mercer have observed three contributing factors.

First, organisations fail to adapt effectively to changes in their external environment. Rather than developing creative ways to tackle new problems, they often find themselves maintaining the status quo. As a result, they gradually drift into a state of survival — fighting just to get by.

Second, organisations fail to develop an internal environment that stimulates the growth and innovation they need to stay ahead. They view their relationship with employees as a transactional quid pro quo and therefore struggle to find people who feel truly invested in their work and the organisation’s future.

And third, some organisations have uninformed decision-making processes. Thriving organisations are curious about their people and laser focused on taking data-driven action, not just importing best practices from others. This approach enables them to pinpoint the unique menu of actions that will help their people thrive.

The impact of these failures is tangible. With the lifespan of the average S&P 500 company now under 20 years, it is clear that failure to thrive has a real impact on people, businesses, and the economy.

What does it mean to thrive?

To find out what it feels like to Thrive at work, we asked over 800 HR and business leaders from around the world a series of open-ended questions about their organisational culture and people practices. We then identified a number of key themes in those companies that are committed to developing a thriving workforce.

Growth and learning came out most prominently, matching previous research, which suggested that thriving is a combination of vitality and learning. In addition, our data showed that organisations have been focused on strengthening the sense of equity and efficiency in talent processes to help people thrive.

By overlaying these findings with Mercer’s Global Talent Trends Study results, we found that two dimensions were predictive of job satisfaction and commitment: how energized employees feel day-to-day and whether they can bring their authentic selves to work. When both factors occurred, employees were nearly three times more likely to report job satisfaction and a desire to stay with the organisation.

These results suggest a clear call to action.

A new mandate

Thriving organisations do not happen by chance — they are deliberately designed and intentionally built. In the same way that leading organisations obsess about their customers, thriving organisations obsess about their people — finding ways to help them have transformational experiences at work.

Our research has pinpointed the strategic focus of thriving organisations, the characteristics of thriving workforces, and how thriving individuals experience their workplace.

Four critical priorities

Thriving is about focusing on the needs and desires of individuals and understanding what drives their personal investment. To get there, organisations need a purposeful strategy and committed leaders.

How do you ensure that your organisation is on the Thrive journey?

Mercer recommends focusing on four critical priorities:

1.Craft a future-focused people strategy: Organizations need to approach their people strategy with as much dedication as they approach their innovation and digital strategies. Thriving organizations treat their workforce as an asset in which to invest – not simply a business cost.

2.Curate a compelling employee value proposition: People want jobs that work for them. They want tools to manage work and life in a way that is personalized, flexible and unique to their own interests and aspirations.

3.Create a thriving work environment: Individuals thrive when work is challenging and purposeful, when they feel empowered to make decisions and when they are connected to colleagues and experts.

4.Cultivate a lab mindset: To stay ahead in changing times, cultivate a mindset that encourages experimentation, design thinking, innovation, balanced risk taking and a climate of continuous learning

Most people spend at least half of their waking hours at work; for many, organisations are where the majority of life is lived. When employees thrive, organisations grow. When organisations thrive, they benefit stakeholders, shareholders, and the community at large.


Deon de Swardt is a Principal Consultant at Mercer LinkedIn Deon De Swardt LinkedIn Mercer Africa