The latest Global Economic Conditions Survey from ACCA and IMA finds that more than half of firms are either cutting or freezing employment, while only 14% are increasing investment in staff.
Emerging markets are besieged and revenues for commodities firms have collapsed since mid-2014.
However, the survey shows that after the opportunity to lower costs, benefiting from focusing on innovation was the second opportunity most identified by firms.
In a challenging global environment, firms are under as much pressure as ever - if not more - to innovate and get ahead of the competition.
This can be seen in the growing number of firms citing innovation as an opportunity: 40% in Q1 2016, compared with 36% of firms in Q4 2015 and 33% in Q3 2015.