Win with empathy: Collective responsibility, diversity and flexibility are top priorities for Canadian organizations in 2021, according to new Mercer study

February 8, 2021

Canada, Toronto


The COVID-19 pandemic, volatile economic implications, and protests against racial injustice are accelerating changes in the ways organizations in Canada are working and investing in their employees. According to the Canadian edition of Mercer’s 2021 Global Talent Trends Study, Canadian business leaders have shifted expectations to take a more expansive view of an organization’s responsibility to communities as a whole, extending success metrics beyond shareholder returns and placing individual and societal wellbeing at its core.


Prioritizing collective responsibility

Empathizing and delivering on the needs of a broader range of stakeholders was a key trend that emerged in 2020 – and is likely to persist. Many Canadian employers stepped up in 2020 to protect jobs and pay during business closures, support caregivers and provide sick leave. As a result, two in five Canadian companies today say managing inclusively and with empathy has become more critical for future resilience.


“A successful shake-up of our workplaces requires trust on all sides. Contributing to collective responsibility will require companies to align benefits goals to business priorities, interrupt gender and race inequities, deliver on flexibility for all and engineer a step change in the employee experience through radical HR transformation — all of which are essential to the reinvention this new era demands,” said Daniel Imbeault, Partner in Talent Strategy at Mercer Canada.


Imbeault added, “in 2021, getting beyond the surface level on sustainability as well as diversity, equity and inclusion will be crucial to attracting talent and investors. It will also be vital for growth. Organizations that integrate environmental, social and governance (ESG) metrics into the CEO’s agenda are more likely to report high revenue growth.”1


  • 65% of Canadian HR leaders say their company has continued or stepped up the pace towards an ESG and multi-stakeholder business approach.
  • With COVID-19 revealing that not everyone’s future is equal, 58% of Canadian companies are re-examining what is most relevant to different persona groups, signalling a shift towards greater personalization of inclusive benefits.
  • The biggest opportunity in sustainability strategies? To rethink how investments such as retirement portfolios can be directed toward sustainability — something just 12% of Canadian plan sponsors do today.

Championing diversity and flexibility in all forms

While advancing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is hardly a new idea, the explosion of concerns spurred by racial violence and the Black Lives Matter movement has increased the urgency for improved analytics and understanding of employee needs when redesigning the workforce. Accountability and action on improving gender, race and wealth gaps will be front and center in 2021, and organizations in Canada will invest more in DEI analytics and insights.


“The focus on diversity has also highlighted the need to deliver personalized and flexible solutions at work.  We need to rethink flexibility as a whole, including flexibility in policies, practices and benefits available to employees, in order to deliver a better overall employee experience (EX).”


“Given the experience of remote working and the need to adjust capacity swiftly in 2020, it’s no surprise that 2021 Canada transformation plans are concentrated on reinventing flexibility in all its guises (40%),” said Marie-Josée Le Blanc, Partner and Health Innovation Leader at Mercer Canada.


Recent events have also increased the urgency for improved health and wellbeing benefits when redesigning the workforce. “Health, wellbeing and flexibility need to be top priorities within organizations,” added Le Blanc. “Canadian employers are ahead of their global peers in re-engaging employees in their health and promoting long-term health goals. Virtual access to healthcare, for example, is no longer an afterthought with over half (53%) of Canadian companies planning to offer more access to remote health and benefit options. Canadian employers plan to take it one step further to create safe working environments.2 Half (50%) of Canadian employers are training managers to spot mental health issues compared to only 29% globally.”


  • While reskilling toward critical talent pools is a priority in Canadian transformation plans (49%), only 31% of companies are gathering information on individuals’ current skills, and fewer (12%) said they’ve increased spend on workforce upskilling or reskilling for the entire workforce.
  • 31% of Canadian companies say they plan to improve analytics on pay equity in the year ahead.
  • Nearly two-thirds of Canadian organizations (64%) plan to add benefits to address mental or emotional health issues compared to less than half (47%) globally.
  • There is much room for improvement. As Canadian HR leaders map out future workforce strategies, only 18% are taking into account the impact of 2020’s transformation or rightsizing plans on various minority groups, and just 13% are considering the pandemic’s impact on these populations.

The path forward

In order to accelerate progress on these trends, organizations will need to consider several key priorities. Namely, developing a sustainability strategy, establishing clear organizational ownership of skills, committing to diversity, equity and inclusion goals and outcomes, making flexible working a promise and a practice, and prioritizing health and wellbeing. More than four in five (83%) Canadian HR leaders report that skill development will continue to be a focus in 2021.


“Canadian employers will need to push themselves out of their comfort zones and start re-imagining HR as strategic advisors who can help their organizations both anticipate the people impacts of business decisions and address employee concerns with empathy. 2020 has been a year of reacting and responding, whereas 2021 will provide an opportunity to rebound and re-invent,” added Imbeault.


About Global Talent Trends study

The sixth edition of Mercer’s Global Talent Trends (2021) study shares insights from over 7,300 senior business executives, HR leaders and employees and, for the first time, has deep dive Companion Reports for 23 geographies, spanning 44 countries. In conjunction, the Global Talent Trends 2020–2021 Local Companion Report – Canadian edition shares insights from Canadian HR leaders to uncover their priorities for the year ahead. To download the Canadian edition, visit here.


About Mercer

Mercer believes in building brighter futures by redefining the world of work, reshaping retirement and investment outcomes, and unlocking real health and well-being. Mercer’s approximately 25,000 employees are based in 43 countries and the firm operates in 130 countries. Mercer is a business of Marsh McLennan (NYSE: MMC), the world’s leading professional services firm in the areas of risk, strategy and people, with 83,000 colleagues and annual revenue of nearly $20 billion. Through its market-leading businesses including MarshGuy Carpenter and Oliver Wyman, Marsh McLennan helps clients navigate an increasingly dynamic and complex environment. For more information, visit Follow Mercer on LinkedIn and Twitter.



[1] Mercer. 2020 Global Talent Trends Study

[2] MMC. Digital Tools for Mental Health, 2020, available at

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