17/06/2013 08:00 BST | Updated 14/08/2013 06:12 BST

The Way the World Works


This week, the leaders of the G8 countries - the UK, the USA, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Russia and Japan - are meeting in Northern Ireland for their annual summit. As host nation, the UK has set the priorities for the discussion: the assembled leaders will focus on Tax, Trade and Transparency. These are, of course, important issues that are worthy of consideration at the highest level. But we think there's something missing from the agenda - something that needs to be considered alongside these weighty issues: Talent.

The three core themes of the summit - Tax, Trade and Transparency - all acknowledge the extent to which the world now operates as a single marketplace. Globalisation is a defining feature of our era, and it touches every aspect of our lives: the ease with which businesses and goods can be moved around the world has had, and will have, profound impacts on the way we structure our tax regimes and our trade agreements. The focus this year on transparency in governments and business is, partly, an effort to ensure that developing countries can be welcomed into this global community on fair and reasonable terms.

As we wrestle with these grand themes of globalisation, though, it's easy to forget that, beneath and alongside the trade routes and tax regimes are real people - people doing jobs and going about their working lives all round the world. Globalisation might be the product of technological change, but its impacts are felt on a very human scale.

At the CIPD we've taken the opportunity of the G8 summit to look at the world and how the people in it go about their working lives: we've collected and compared data on wealth, working hours, education levels, gender equality and much more. We've looked at the G8 countries, but we've also included the BRICS - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - because the world is, evidently, changing and because including these economies brings a vital fresh perspective.. The data that we've drawn out reminds us just how diverse the world is, and how easy it can be to assume that everyone does things how we do them: the many surprising human stories, comparisons and contradictions that we've found illustrate sharply how our ways of thinking about and measuring our working lives don't necessarily apply in other countries.

We found, for instance, that India has the lowest level of female participation in the workforce of the countries we studied - and you're more likely to be satisfied with life if you're unemployed than employed in India. We also found that it's usual for Chinese employers to offer holiday when a couple get married - and that the holiday is longer if the couple are of 'mature age', which is classified as over 25 for the groom or 23 for the bride. We learned that there's a strong correlation between the ease of starting a business in a country and that country's GDP per head of population. South Africa and Italy have the highest levels of youth unemployment, while workers in Russia work the longest hours.

What's clear is that there are as many ways of thinking about, valuing and measuring work and working lives around the world as there are countries we studied. It's more important now than ever that we're alive to these differences: we need to look carefully at what we might be able to learn from other countries and think about how we can adapt our workforce and economy to fit into the new global jigsaw. Should we make it easier to start new businesses? Should we give more holiday, or work longer hours? Should we and our government be prioritising GDP, or happiness, or gender equality - and what helps to achieve these priorities?

We also need to understand the way the globalised world works to know what we, in Britain or any other country, can usefully and productively contribute to a global economy. What skills will we need to develop in our workforce and in which industries should we focus our efforts? How should we trade and interact with the rest of the world? This goes much deeper than understanding local customs and cultures in order to do business effectively - important though that is. This is about assessing our place in a global economy where businesses and their people can move location ever more easily, and about asking what impact that has on the way we think about our working lives.

The world is changing quickly, and our work, workforces and workplaces will - and must - change too. By recognising the crucial importance of real people and real working lives -as well as grand themes of Tax, Trade and Transparency - we better equip ourselves to understand the forces that shape the modern world and to achieve David Cameron's stated goals for the G8 of growth, prosperity and economic development across the world. As Britain competes in a global market, we need to ask honest questions of ourselves and expand our horizons - with one eye always on the Talent that fuels success.