Survey says outlook for 2021 Is optimistic

  • Susan Fronk

    Susan Fronk

By Susan Fronk
Updated 1/26/2021 3:19 PM

I don't know about you, but I hope I never hear these words ever again: unprecedented, uncertain, new normal, pivot, pandemic, and last but not least, COVID-19.

Unfortunately, those are all accurate words that describe the year we have all been through. It is time now to close the books on 2020, however, and look to the year ahead. Our survey data and professional insights gathered from hundreds of business leaders coast to coast underscores that the outlook for 2021 is optimistic.


MRA conducts business-outlook surveys in partnership with employer associations across the nation. We rely on this research to help advise our members on key business trends so that they can make fast, effective business decisions. The top measures that executives are planning to implement in 2021 show a stronger focus on their employees, and efforts to help them be more productive. At the same time leaders are concerned about the bottom-line impact of their recruiting, retention and communication systems.

According to the 2021 National Business Trends Survey from the Employer Associations of America, 44 percent of executives expect the overall outlook for the 2021 economy to improve, as opposed to last year in which only 12 percent felt that the economy would improve.

COVID certainly has had a significant impact and perhaps that is reflected in the survey results with many feeling that the economy can only get better. Fueling this optimism is the fact that 57 percent of executives project slight to significant increases in sales and revenue for 2021.

COVID's impact on business continuity (e.g., supply chain, financial implications, temporary shutdowns) remains a fundamental worry, with 52 percent of business leaders indicating that they are "extremely to moderately concerned." What tops the charts for business executives' concerns, however, is employee safety and well-being. One potential positive outcome of COVID? Employers are now increasing employee communications, promoting Employee Assistance Program (EAP) benefits, conducting pulse surveys to monitor employee engagement, and using workplace wellness programs to promote overall employee well-being.

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What issues made the list of the Top 5 most serious challenges for business executives? Included are:

1. Talent acquisition

2. Talent retention

3. Ability to pay competitive wages

4. Ability to pay for benefit costs

5. Cost of regulatory compliance

The Top 5 measures to increase business opportunity and strengthen business results that executives say they have implemented in 2020 or will continue in 2021 are:

1. Invest in technology

2. Invest in equipment

3. Increase flexible work arrangements

4. Increase recruiting emphasis

5. Use data analytics to improve business strategy

A quote from Fred DeVito says, "If it doesn't challenge you, it does not change you." We have been seriously challenged this past year, and often as a result, positive changes take root. We adapted, dug deep and forged ahead. Organizations are showing their resilience and readiness to tackle today's challenges and emerge stronger than ever before.

• Susan Fronk is president and CEO of MRA.

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