HR Leads Business

Nov 5, 2019 | Clare Chiappetta

What Are the Big Global Trends in HR?

The global economy is experiencing rapid changes and disruption — and it has little to do with physical goods. The new commodity is data, which has been touted as the “new oil.” Data powers our burgeoning digital workforce and is constantly being exchanged across national borders. In 2017, cross-border data bandwidth was 700 terabytes per second, and that figure is projected to grow by a factor of nine in the next five years.

Data is constantly changing the way we work. And as more companies expand globally, HR’s role in facilitating human capital takes on even more importance.

So what do you need to know about global HR? What do the global trends look like?

“HR rules and regulations vary greatly from country to country and are evolving down different paths,” says Shan Nair, president of Nucleus. The emerging rules regarding data privacy are a hot topic, but changes in HR practice and social phenomena such as the #MeToo movement also have global traction.

Here are some of the HR trends you need to know to position yourself as an HR leader in the global economy.

Understand Strategic Data Use — and the Ethics Governing It

Data-driven technology is a common addition to HR practices around the world, but many companies are struggling to use data in a way that supports their strategic goals. “HR teams around the world are updating their HR practice by implementing these data-driven technologies,” says Anna Tavis, a clinical associate professor of human capital management at New York University. “Utilizing data doesn’t automatically upgrade your HR practice to a strategic role — but when incorporated well it does accelerate it.”

Companies like Google and IBM merge data with strategy in their people analytics teams. This is a trend that we’ve seen primarily in the U.S. and major countries in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

While it’s easy to become absorbed in data’s strategic use, it’s important to remember that data use also has implications for real people. When dealing with data, there are ethical guidelines to follow. Legal guidelines are still being processed in many countries, but trends can be seen in data privacy. “Europe, Latin America and Australia are taking their cue from the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation,” Nair says. “America is regarded as federally non-compliant, and many Asian countries have yet to enforce data privacy laws.”

Understanding differences in data protection regulations across national borders is of critical value when conducting data-driven assessments at an international level.

Approach Human Capital from a Holistic Perspective

HR has to become fully competent in understanding and using data-driven technology but to really prepare for strategic data uses, they need to take it a step farther. “It’s becoming clear that just understanding the technology side of data use isn’t enough,” Tavis says. “You have to acquire people who know neuroscience, anthropology, evolutionary biology and other sciences to work together with technology to fully understand its scope.” 

Companies are anticipating more concrete data protection regulations by practicing self-monitoring and studying the implications data use has for the whole person. Data and technology have to be contextualized across countries and cultures, but that starts with grounding data use in holistic human experiences. “With technology, cultural diversity takes on a different dimension,” Tavis says. “It’s no longer just a question of globalizing, but also anticipating how each specific market will react to the technologies that we are bringing in.”

HR in the global context has to put the whole person first — psychologically, socially and culturally — before relying on data-driven technology to carry us into the global economy.

Protect Your People and the Good of the Organization Will Follow

What are some ways HR can support self-monitoring? The most straightforward approach to self-monitoring means recognizing human faults. Promoting a culture that encourages whistle-blowing is a trend that begins within your organizational culture and has gained global recognition as a best practice.

“Anti-bribery and #MeToo-related policies and practices are receiving much greater emphasis worldwide,” Nair says. “Whistle-blowing minimizes the damages associated with bribery or assault, so it shouldn’t be taboo or discouraged.”

Listening to and acknowledging employee experiences is, first and foremost, ethically right. It also has the collateral benefit of protecting the organization. “Globally there is a common consensus that HR’s role is to protect the business while having a ‘soft’ employee-facing outlook,” Nair says. “On a large scale, ‘hard HR’ is gradually being replaced worldwide by ‘soft,’ people-focused HR.”

This article was originally published in 2018 and updated in November 2019.