HR trends – The rise and fall of HR issues

In each future Newswire we shall seek to identify key trends that are of relevance to HR professionals in multinational enterprises. In this, our initial review, we shall be taking a global overview during the 15-year period from 2004 to the present day. To assist us in future analyses we shall be looking at past Newswires, current hot topics, corporate spending patterns, defining events, and “Google Trends”.

Google Trends is by far the best place to begin our overview. This throws up some surprising online search activity that is clearly linked to the interests of HR professionals and the public at large. Of course, search term popularity will vary with the languages primarily in use, although similar patterns are often found where equivalent terms are translated into German, Spanish, French, or Japanese.

Growing popularity

There are surprising few topics that have grown significantly in popularity over the last 15 years. One of these is the popularity of the term “lawyer” that has lifted globally from 77% to its peak in May 2019. The expression “labour court” has also risen to a peak today, largely due to interest in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Irish Republic. Another field where there has been a clear and steady rise is “parental leave”, as well as “employee engagement”, the latter once again led by Africa and also the West Indies.

Decline and fall

Expressions that are much less searched today than in 2004 are “employee benefits” (except in the USA and Philippines), “labour relations”, “health and safety”, “discrimination”, “HR policies”, “trade union”, and, in spite of a rising level of recent activity in the field, “mergers and acquisitions”. Searches for “remuneration” are less significant today, although interest peaked in September 2015. Most surprising of all, however, has been the steady decline of interest in “employment law” – the interest level is down to 23% compared to 2004, and to 14% for the Japanese term. Where interest exists, it is primarily in New Zealand, the UK, and Irish Republic.


Very often a term’s popularity will go sharply up and down over time – like the expression “equal pay”, where most interest is confined to the UK and USA. New laws, popular subjects for lobby and economic events, also give rise to sudden peaks – like GDPR in May 2018, after which it rapidly faded. #MeToo had a sudden surge from nothing in October 2017 and then another surge exactly a year later, but curiously happening not where it might be expected, as interest was heavily concentrated in India and Bangladesh.

In our recent Membership Survey we asked participants to indicate issues that were of particular current concern. From the responses it was possible to identify two prominent topic clusters:

* Legal compliance: Maintaining HR policies, GDPR safeguards, employment contracts, and individual dismissal.

* Pay, benefits and talent management: Retaining employees, recruiting talent, employee engagement, performance and development.

These indicate that although HR is not out of step with public (or employee) interest in the fields they cover, there is a slight mismatch, reflecting perhaps the fact that only HR will truly know how out of date their HR policies are and what blunt instruments all measures are in achieving employee engagement, compared to employee reward.

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