Latest CEO report highlights continued work flexibility, mixed business outlook

YPO global survey shows Australia/New Zealand leaders with a more optimistic business outlook and stronger focus on mental health of employees

Flexible work arrangements are here to stay, engagement and adaptability remain key priorities and nearly half of CEOs retain a more negative business outlook now than they did as the COVID-19 crisis hit, a fresh survey reports.

The latest YPO global pulse survey, The New CEO Frontier: Leading in the Post-COVID World, was based on responses from 2500 global chief executives between 21-24 September 2020. It found 78 per cent of CEOs planning to continue to offer flexible working arrangements in a post-COVID world.

In addition, nearly half (49 per cent) have a more negative business outlook compared to when the survey last ran in March 2020, although 37 per cent of respondents reported their business outlook is more positive compared to 1 March 2020. Both these results are an improvement compared with former YPO data from the previous six months, signalling improving CEO sentiment.

Across respondents, business leaders in Australia/New Zealand and the US had the most positive overall business outlooks compared to 1 March, at 44 per cent and 40 per cent, respectively.

Specific industries with the most positive business outlook, according to the YPO report, include healthcare, transportation/trucking/railroad, retail and wholesale, and product services, such as technology and cloud providers. The most pessimistic categories are hospitality/restaurant, aerospace/aviation and media/entertainment.

Leaders were found to be most optimistic about revenue growth in the next 12 months, with 39 per cent anticipating a 10 per cent or more increase in revenue. However, 35 per cent anticipated a 10 per cent or more revenue decrease, again highlighting the split between company fortunes during the COVID-19 pandemic. In A/NZ, half those surveyed predicted a 10 per cent increase or more in revenue one year from now.

Just shy of half of global CEO respondents (45 per cent) expected total numbers of employees to be the same one year from now, while 30 per cent anticipate headcount to be down by at least 10 per cent in the same period.

Top business adjustments made during the pandemic considered to have the biggest long-term positive impact are work flexibility (55 per cent), digital/technology investments (51 per cent), leaner operations including workforce reductions (46 per cent) and increased agility (43 per cent). Further down the beneficial list were business pivots (22 per cent) and diminished office leases (20 per cent).

When it comes to the big staff issues CEOs believe they face in the future, 34 per cent globally nominated engagement as the top challenge in managing employees, over productivity (20.6 per cent), collaboration (14.6 per cent), mental health (12.4 per cent), health and safety (7.7 per cent) and burnout (7.4 per cent). However, in A/NZ, mental health came in first for employment concerns (27 per cent), ahead of engagement (24 per cent).

Issues global executives believe will impact business overall in the next 12 months include COVID-19 resurgence and restrictions (63 per cent), regional economic environments (61 per cent) and the political environment (56 per cent). Social impact came in last on the list (37 per cent), while the economic outlook came up trumps as the key issue facing CEOs in a post-COVID world (47.4 per cent). This was ahead of digital technology (17.8 per cent).

Key traits as stated by CEOs for successful leadership are adaptability (38.5 per cent), resiliency (18.1 per cent) and an ability to make decisions (11.2 per cent).

In terms of interaction, 47 per cent of CEOs said they’d be comfortable travelling now to local in-person events, but only 12 per cent were comfortable with global travel. About one-third expect to be ready in the first half of next year, and 29 per cent in the second half of 2021.

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