A curated list of global surveys on workforce dynamics

Source: Author

A growing number of private sector companies have initiated global surveys on workforce trends and dynamics. While one needs to be careful in interpreting the data due to a widespread focus on larger companies and white-collar jobs, these surveys can be a useful source of labor market information, especially for international development practitioners working in larger middle-income countries.

By Kevin Hempel and Chloë Haynes | August 2023 (updated in April, 2024)

When trying to understand labor markets and workforce trends, we typically look for a range of national data sources, including labor force and employer surveys, job vacancy data, and other administrative data (e.g., from Public Employment Services, education institutions, social insurance authorities, etc.). 

Moreover, we may be interested in regional or global trends and/or cross-country comparisons. However, cross-country surveys on labor market issues are not as widely  available, besides some well-known examples such as the World Bank’s enterprise surveys or Covid-19 household surveys. There are of course many other global surveys being carried out on a range of labor market topics (e.g., on youth employment, crowdworkers, harassment at work) – often by international organizations such as the ILO – but most of the time these surveys are not conducted regularly, therefore only providing a snapshot at a given time. 

In recent years, a growing number of private sector companies have initiated global surveys on workforce trends and dynamics, reflecting the companies’ intent to grow their portfolio of human resource (HR) related services. These surveys are sometimes less well-known among stakeholders in the public sector and international development agencies.

To provide a better overview of these (emerging) data sources, we looked into existing surveys that meet the following criteria:

  1. Thematic focus on employment issues, from the perspective of workers and/or companies
  2. Cross-country coverage, incl. Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs)
  3. Repeated survey

What we found

  • We identified 18 surveys that meet the criteria (see tables further below). The companies behind these surveys are typically large management consulting firms (e.g., BCG, Deloitte, PwC, etc.) or large HR service providers (e.g., Randstad, Adecco, Manpower), as well as some other global players (e.g., Gallup, Microsoft, Facebook).
  • Surveys cover a broad range of themes. Worker surveys often focus on employee engagement and attitudes about multiple topics (e.g., work-life balance, remote work, diversity and inclusion, AI, etc.). Among firm surveys, common themes include challenges related to recruitment and employee retention as well as the effect of external trends (e.g., climate change, technology) on the business and job creation. While some of the topics covered remain the same over multiple survey periods, other topics explore current trends in more depth. As a result, survey questions may change significantly from one year to another.
  • Country coverage differs widely, from 10 to 188 countries. Most of the countries covered are usually high-income countries. Among the LMICs covered, large middle-income countries are most widely represented (e.g., Brazil, Mexico, India, China, Turkey).
  • Surveys focus mainly on white-collar jobs. While many of the publicly available methodologies from the surveys we analyzed do not provide details on the industries and occupations covered, the survey topics included suggest that most surveys are geared toward professional, white-collar positions, as opposed to informal or blue-collar jobs.
  • Larger firms are more widely represented than SMEs.

Main takeaways

In conclusion, these surveys are a useful additional source of labor market information for development practitioners, especially those working in larger middle-income countries. One key benefit of these surveys is that they are flexible and timely, rendering them able to shed light on emerging trends regarding current issues of interest from the perspective of workers and firm executives.

However, one needs to be careful in interpreting findings, as these surveys are usually not representative. Many of them focus on large (and multinational) companies and white-collar jobs in selected industries, therefore often not providing insights on the situation of MSMEs and workers in industries such as agriculture and in the informal sector, which represent a significant share of LMIC labor markets.

List of surveys

 Surveys of workers

Firm surveys

Mixed surveys

You can also download these tables incl. the hyperlinks to the respective surveys here.

About the authors:

Kevin Hempel is the Founder and Managing Director of Prospera Consulting, a boutique consulting firm working towards stronger policies and programs to facilitate the labor market integration of disadvantaged groups. You can follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Chloë Haynes is a second-year graduate student at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) and a Research Analyst with Prospera Consulting. You can follow her on LinkedIn.