Small and Midsize Business Confidence Falls Amid Rising COVID-19 Cases

More than half of SMB leaders do not require masks in their workplace; Only 9% require a COVID-19 vaccine

SAN DIEGOSept. 29, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — Confidence among small and midsize business (SMB) CEOs fell in the third quarter of 2021, erasing all gains recorded in the first half of the year, according to the latest CEO Confidence Index from Vistage, a CEO coaching and peer advisory organization. The Confidence Index, which measures sentiment on various economic and business topics among SMB leaders, was 97.1, down from 108.8 in Q2, with 40% of CEOs of small and midsize businesses reporting the increase in cases related to the Delta variant has impacted their businesses. In addition, 41% have made changes to their masking policies as a result, but 56% say they will never mandate vaccines for employees.

“The Delta variant, combined with the economic headwinds of inflation, supply chain challenges and talent scarcity has not fully reversed the economic surge that occurred as restrictions lessened; however, it has slowed growth expectations. Small business owners are still trying to navigate how to keep their businesses running while keeping their employees safe,” said Joe Galvin, Vistage’s chief research officer. “Economic growth will continue through the second half of the year, just not at the unsustainable pace of the first half.”

For now, the pandemic continues to impact employment with 67% of leaders saying they are struggling to operate at full capacity given staffing challenges, and 66% reporting they are planning on hiring in the next year. To combat these challenges, businesses are using a variety of incentives: boosting wages (69%), expanding benefits (28%), offering hiring bonuses (27%) and allowing remote working (41%). Current employees are also being offered skill development programs (56%) and increased overtime (26%).

Additional survey highlights include:

The Delta Variant

  • 40% of CEOs say the recent increase in cases related to the Delta variant has impacted their businesses.
  • In response to the Delta variant, 23% have made changes to their vaccination policy, 41% have updated their mask policy and 36% have not made any changes at all.
  • 39% are not requiring masks in their workplace; an additional 27% recommend but do not require masks.
  • Only 9% are requiring a COVID-19 vaccine for employees, 36% are considering vaccine requirements and 56% said they would never mandate vaccines. As the announcement about the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate was made during the course of the survey, preliminary findings saw an increase in those who were considering requiring vaccines.

Hiring and Retention

  • More than a quarter (27%) have experienced declining retention, while 60% have said that employee retention rates have remained the same since the beginning of 2021.
  • Two-thirds (67%) say hiring challenges have impacted their ability to operate at full capacity.

SMBs Expect Growth to Moderate from Peak Levels

  • 56% of CEOs believe the economy has improved compared to a year ago.
  • 68% anticipate their firm’s sales revenues will increase during the next 12 months.
  • 50% expect their firm’s profitability to improve during the next 12 months.
  • 47% are planning for increases in new expenditures on plant and equipment, which is below last quarter’s pandemic peak of 53% but higher than in any prior quarter since the 3rd quarter of 2018

Download the full Q3 2021 Vistage CEO Confidence Index and the infographic.

About the Vistage CEO Confidence Index

The Vistage CEO Confidence Index, established in 2003, is a quarterly survey of small to midsize business CEOs, presidents, and business owners about the U.S. economy. The Q3 2021 Vistage CEO Confidence Index includes responses from 1,620 U.S. CEOs, surveyed between September 7 and 14, 2021. Since its establishment in 2003, the Index has proven to be a reliable indicator for changes in GDP and employment, two to three quarters hence.

About Vistage Worldwide, Inc.
Vistage is the world’s largest CEO coaching and peer advisory organization for small and midsize businesses. For more than 65 years, we’ve been helping CEOs, business owners and key executives solve their greatest challenges through confidential peer groups and one-to-one executive coaching sessions. Today, more than 45,000 members in 35 countries rely on Vistage to help make better decisions for their companies, families and communities. The results prove it: Vistage CEO members grew their annual revenue on average by 4.6% in 2020, while nonmembers with comparable small and midsize businesses saw revenue decrease by 4.7%, according to a study of Dun & Bradstreet data. Learn more at

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