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What Does a Resilient Workforce Look Like?
Remote work, the need for new skills and the rise of AI are pushing employers to rethink workforce resilience.
Businesses are exploring strategies to support employees in increasingly remote or hybrid work environments, including reskilling and upskilling.
The future of work will require new skills from managers, and organizations will need to train them.
Though employers are still determining the role of AI in the workplace, this technology could lead to advancements in training and workforce planning.
As organizations continue to adapt to post-pandemic working conditions, employers are refining their approach to building a resilient workforce. Employees are looking for more from their jobs, and businesses are responding with a greater focus on all aspects of their workers’ personal and professional needs. Meanwhile, employees and employers alike are becoming increasingly aware of the need for reskilling and upskilling to keep pace with changing business priorities and the possibilities of AI.
Three Aon leaders recently shared their insights on workforce resilience, including the importance of re- and upskilling, artificial intelligence (AI) and supporting a people-focused work culture.
This is part of a series of The One Brief articles on workforce resilience. Hear more from our experts in the On Aon Insights podcast series on workforce resilience. The following has been condensed and edited for clarity.
What defines workforce resilience for today’s businesses? How do practices like reskilling and upskilling fit into this framework?
Stephanie DeLorm, solutions development leader for Health Solutions at Aon: When some organizations say the word resilience, they’re really focusing on helping their employees from both a physical and a mental health standpoint. But for us at Aon, our point of view is that it’s broader than that: it’s really defined within the three pillars of resilience, agility and belonging.
Leaders who can establish how resilience fits into their core business and use that to inform better decision making can effectively protect and strengthen their business while also building engagement and purpose. An organization is only as resilient as its people.
Tarandeep Singh, CEO of Aon’s Assessment Solutions: One tends to use the terms reskilling and upskilling interchangeably. It’s good to think of these definitions in the context of outcomes. Upskilling is adding skills to improve performance in the current role, whereas reskilling is commonly referred to as learning new skills to adapt to a different role or a different job.
Why are reskilling and upskilling necessary?
Charlotte Schaller, partner and head of Aon Assessment in the UK: The pandemic and the rise of remote working has meant that how we used to manage teams and individuals is no longer what is needed in the majority of today’s businesses. As with many other things such as digitalization, the need to reskill was already present — it’s just that the pandemic has accelerated it.
Then we have the Great Resignation: there’s a greater need for managers to engage, develop and retain talent than ever before. The appetite for hybrid working just increases the complexity of the manager’s role. They might need to manage disparate, globalized hybrid teams. We have diversity and ESG targets that have risen. Managers now need to spend more time identifying, developing and retaining diverse talent.
Finally, there’s the very positive rise in awareness of the duty of care managers have in embedding wellbeing into the culture and building resilience into their teams. Duty of care means there’s a responsibility now for managers to actually ask the people that work for them how they are. The more that managers can empathize and understand, the more support they can offer and the more productive their team can hopefully become.
What are the big challenges in reskilling and upskilling in the context of remote working?
Tarandeep Singh: Traditional way to upskill is on the job with an expert, or with the team. In the context of remote working and hybrid workforce, this poses an obvious challenge of feedback loop, time to learn and tools availability. Basics are easier to grasp through online resources though the value of experience is undermined.
If employees will stay heavily remote, organizations will likely compare the costs of upskilling and reskilling against available gig specialists who have the knowledge and skills. For reasons of intellectual property, there might be inherent bias towards internal for certain roles, however skill and supply gaps would necessitate higher contractual workforce.
Leaders who can establish how resilience fits into their core business and use that to inform better decision making can effectively protect and strengthen their business while also building engagement and purpose.
What are the challenges in building workforce resilience?
Stephanie DeLorm: One of the biggest challenges is recognizing that when we talk about workforce resilience, it’s a journey and not a destination, meaning that it takes time. When we think about HR organizations and how they’re structured today, many are structured within vertical specialties and by segregation of duties. But when we think about people issues today, they’re complex and they cut across those verticals.
Sometimes, taking a holistic approach can look really overwhelming. HR leaders may be thinking about it in terms of HR transformation. But what we’re really talking about is embracing the connection between resilience, agility and belonging, and realizing that there’s a return on investment around that. If HR leaders can retain talent, they’re ultimately going to create happier and healthier and more productive employees.
How is AI changing the workplace and workforce resilience?
Tarandeep Singh: No one truly knows the full impact of the new technology, something which innovators confirmed in the open letter “Pause Giant AI Experiments” they signed in March 2023. However, we know that the future could be very exciting and very scary depending upon one’s mindset. Keeping aside the legal and ethical questions momentarily, the possibilities are endless, and the impact would be felt across all industries and functions.
With generative AI, there will be constant change to jobs and skills that support the same: which skill does one train on will become an evolving challenge. Custodians of learning will need to enable employees with rapid skilling resources focused on short-term outcomes. Long-term business goals will depend on learning mindset and agility because new technology will repeatedly change the landscape.
Charlotte Schaller: AI can help attract and retain good managers. It not only saves time, but if you use the right AI, there should be good science behind the process. It can remove the bias that humans might have when they’re selecting or developing managers. AI is capable of identifying strengths and development areas, but it should be used as a tool to flag concerns or recommendations. It’s not a hard and fast sifting tool in organization design or workforce planning — but used in the right way alongside a variety of information, it can be really powerful.
How can organizations build a culture that lets everyone — including managers — build skills and thrive?
Tarandeep Singh: The leaders influence and shape the culture. In an increasingly virtual world, they need to walk and talk the culture online, as much as walk and talk the corridors. This shift is a representation of upskilling their communication preferences and willingness to set the tone for new culture, one that promotes learnability.
At a more organization design and jobs level, it is important to focus on skills with an outside-in as well as an inside-out perspective. Industry roles could be evolving faster or slower than an organization’s strategy hence benchmarking and calibrating one’s path is key. Any new skill that needs to be acquired could also mean a redesign of job and roles. This is a big shift from a culture perspective, and one needs to be measured and deliberate about it. Reskilling requires organizations to behave very differently in a future state than upskilling.
Charlotte Schaller: Organizations must make smarter investment decisions in their people. Infusing insights with data is going to be absolutely key to empowering internal mobility, building future skills among the workforce and giving visibility into the possibilities of how people can realize their potential. See what your data is telling you. Why are people leaving? Why are people staying? What feedback can you gather on existing managers? How diverse is your manager population today, and are there learning pathways to help individuals become your future managers? How resilient is your workforce? How are your managers able to support the wellbeing agenda?
Stephanie DeLorm: We’ve found that a really great place to start is understanding what individuals want and also thinking about how those individuals feel about the team that they’re a part of. Are there opportunities to help that team or to help the manager?
The other piece that some organizations are recognizing the need to focus on is really recontracting with employees. So, thinking about the overall employee value proposition, and that could encompass health and wellbeing programs as well as some of the things around skills pathways and career development. Employees and employers are realizing that there isn’t this one-size-fits-all approach, and more individuals want personalization. Focusing on what matters most to them and investing in transparent employee communications is really important.
The new On Aon Insights podcast series explores workforce resilience further. Listen now!
The information contained herein and the statements expressed are of a general nature and are not intended to address the circumstances of any particular individual or entity. Although we endeavor to provide accurate and timely information and use sources we consider reliable, there can be no guarantee that such information is accurate as of the date it is received or that it will continue to be accurate in the future. No one should act on such information without appropriate professional advice after a thorough examination of the particular situation.
The contents herein may not be reproduced, reused, reprinted or redistributed without the expressed written consent of Aon, unless otherwise authorized by Aon. To use information contained herein, please write to our team.
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