Mentions of the future of work within the filings of companies in the retail sector fell 64% between the third and fourth quarters of 2021.

In total, the frequency of sentences related to the future of work during 2021 was 817% higher than in 2016 when GlobalData, from whom our data for this article is taken, first began to track the key issues referred to in company filings.

When retail companies publish annual and quarterly reports, ESG reports and other filings, GlobalData analyses the text and identifies individual sentences that relate to disruptive forces facing companies in the coming years. The future of work is one of these topics - companies that excel and invest in these areas are thought to be better prepared for the future business landscape and better equipped to survive unforeseen challenges.

To assess whether the future of work is featuring more in the summaries and strategies of retail companies, two measures were calculated. Firstly, we looked at the percentage of companies which have mentioned the future of work at least once in filings during the past twelve months - this was 50% compared to 12% in 2016. Secondly, we calculated the percentage of total analysed sentences that referred to the future of work.

Of the 10 biggest employers in the retail sector, Ahold Delhaize was the company which referred to the future of work the most during 2021. GlobalData identified 21 future of work-related sentences in the Netherlands-based company's filings - 0.17% of all sentences. Magnit mentioned the future of work the second most - the issue was referred to in 0.07% of sentences in the company's filings. Other top employers with high future of work mentions included Target, JD and TJX.

Across all retail companies the filing published in the fourth quarter of 2021 which exhibited the greatest focus on the future of work came from Truworths International. Of the document's 2,043 sentences, five (0.2%) referred to the future of work.

This analysis provides an approximate indication of which companies are focusing on the future of work and how important the issue is considered within the retail sector, but it also has limitations and should be interpreted carefully. For example, a company mentioning the future of work more regularly is not necessarily proof that they are utilising new techniques or prioritising the issue, nor does it indicate whether the company's ventures into the future of work have been successes or failures.

GlobalData also categorises the future of work mentions by a series of subthemes. Of these subthemes, the most commonly referred to topic in the fourth quarter of 2021 was 'robotic process automation', which made up 75% of all future of work subtheme mentions by retail companies.