Do Your Top Employees Know They’re Critical? Survey Says They Should

While most organizations believe that appropriately managing critical talent is essential to their companies’ success, far fewer have in place programs that are effective in achieving that goal, according to Mercer’s Critical Talent Practices Survey.

“Companies are not capitalizing on all the approaches and resources available, such as monitoring talent through workforce analytics,” says Loree Griffith, Principal in Mercer’s Talent practice. “While companies spend a good deal of time and money identifying and rewarding top employees, they put much less effort into formally tracking and communicating the development of talent – areas that can surely make talent strategies more effective.”

According to Mercer’s survey findings, three-quarters (75%) of organizations employ processes to identify critical talent with approximately 2 to 5% of the workforce categorized as critical. However, less than half (49%) of organizations notify critical talent of their status and just 34% track the status of their critical talent in their HR systems.

“While companies believe managing critical employees is necessary to execute a successful talent strategy, most do not take time to forecast critical talent needs and develop employees for these roles which could positively impact retention and engagement efforts,” says Matthew Stevenson, Mercer’s North America workforce analytics and planning practice leader.

According to Mercer’s survey, high-performers are most often identified by how well they performed in the past, as indicated by 62% organizations. “Since future needs and current performance both play a role, companies may be overlooking employees for critical roles,” says Stevenson.

One of the most effective ways to retain critical talent is to ensure transparency so that critical performers understand their status. This can be the foundation to understand such performers’ career aspirations and to find ways to enrich the employee experience. According to the Mercer survey, the ability to make a difference in the job function leads the list, reported by 59% of organizations. Other non-cash rewards identified include career progression (53%), healthy living/wellness (49%) and recognition (45%). Interestingly, just 27% of organizations incorporate pay into their employment brand to attract and retain top talent.

Whether formal or informal, more than half (56%) of participating organizations believe it is important to build an employment brand for attracting, retaining and engaging critical talent.

“Given companies’ focus on employment branding and the prevalence of non-cash rewards, better communication with critical talent along with greater transparency regarding critical talent status are two worthy considerations to further differentiate the employee experience,” says Griffith.

Mercer’s Critical Talent Practices Survey includes responses from more than 120 employers across all industries throughout the US and Canada. To download the survey results, visit