Here are 3 Economic Trends Impacting HR

By: | March 13, 2019 • 3 min read
Josh Bersin writes HRE’s HR in the Flow of Work column. Bersin is an analyst, author, educator and thought leader focusing on the global talent market and the challenges and trends impacting business workforces around the world. He can be emailed at

My research and decades of experience have taught me that the economy impacts workforce strategies more than almost anything else. I’m convinced this year will not be an exception. In this article, I will outline several important economic trends that all HR leaders should note.

While the GDP is Rising, Productivity is Not

Even though employees around the world are working more hours, productivity (output per hour worked) is lagging. I believe this is a result of several factors.

First, while robotics is now often used in manufacturing, digital tools in most roles have not necessarily made work easier. For instance, 27 percent of respondents to a 2018 LinkedIn survey said they spend an entire day a week dealing with emails not directly relevant to their jobs. And the average company now has seven different systems for communications. Most employees are operating in a digital overload.


We also know that commute times have been inching up over past years, and now, 14 million workers spend an hour or more in daily commutes—another productivity killer.

Those in HR need to invest in work-at-home solutions, adopt flexible work schedules where possible, simplify the IT infrastructure (and HR tools) and do a much better job of employee communications.

Wages are Relatively Stagnant

 After factoring in inflation, U.S. wages have barely budged in the last 40 years, and for those in the bottom 90 percent, wages are falling behind. We essentially have two workforces: one that has benefited from digital technology and a larger one that has not.

While software engineers and designers are now in high demand, there are many left behind.

The 62 percent of Americans who did not attend college are seeing twice the unemployment rate and less than half the wages of those who did. Even higher-paid college grads are falling behind. Deloitte research has found that two-thirds of millennials do not believe their standard of living will be as high as that of their parents; 15 percent of millennials have student debt of $15,000 or more.

HR leaders need to ask themselves, “Are we paying people enough?” In today’s economy, where the most valuable jobs are based on creativity, services and collaboration, paying people well is an investment, not an expense. This year I encourage all HR leaders to rethink their entire compensation strategies. As your company makes more money, it’s important for you to encourage business and finance leaders to share the wealth with employees.

Modern Jobs Demand New Skills

Jobs in virtually every industry are now requiring employees who are digitally savvy, who can communicate effectively verbally and in writing, and who can work in teams and across functional areas. LinkedIn’s latest study of skills in San Francisco, the city with the biggest skills gaps, found that oral communication was the most in-demand skill.