CEOs say they’re afraid of a recession but nearly 70% plan to hire more people this year anyway

February 7, 2023, 5:56 PM UTC
A ”Now Hiring” sign in New York City.
Leonardo Munoz/VIEWpress

With central banks worldwide raising interest rates to fight high inflation, CEOs are worried about the economy. But oddly enough, they’re still hiring. Some 68% of chief executives plan to increase their company’s headcount this year, according to a new Greenhouse survey. The data comes after the U.S. economy added 517,000 jobs in January—more than double economists’ forecasts—and the unemployment rate fell to a 53-year low of 3.4%. 

Before the latest jobs report, a drumbeat of tech industry layoffs painted a much darker picture of the labor market. Over 150,000 tech workers lost their jobs in 2022 as once-high-flying tech stocks tumbled, and Big Tech companies alone have now shed over 70,000 employees in the past 12 months.

At the same time, some 98% of chief executives said they are “bracing for an economic downturn” in a January EY survey—with 55% admitting they’re preparing for something “worse than the global financial crisis.” But despite the recession fears and tech industry woes, layoffs still aren’t in the cards for most companies. 

In the Greenhouse survey, just 11% of CEOs said they expect to reduce their firm’s headcount this year. And roughly a third of chief execs plan to increase their headcount by 10% or more, while 19% plan a 30%-plus increase.


A January PwC survey of 4,410 CEOs from around the world found a similar phenomenon in hiring plans. CEOs are cautious about the economy, and 52% said they plan to cut costs this year. But at the same time, retaining talent remains a top priority. 

Only 19% of CEOs said in PwC’s survey that they were implementing hiring freezes, and just 16% planned to reduce their company’s headcount.

“This stands in stark contrast to what we heard from CEOs back in October and November of 2008, when about twice as many told us they anticipated near-term headcount reductions,” the PwC researchers noted.

Conference Board researchers also found in their January C-Suite Outlook, based on responses from 1,131 executives worldwide, that although a recession was the top “external” concern among CEOs, attracting and retaining talent in a tight labor market was the most pressing “internal” concern.

“While CEOs globally are looking to contain costs and reduce discretionary spending—actions typically taken during a slowdown—employees may be able to breathe a sigh of relief, as few executives are turning to layoffs,” Dana Peterson, chief economist of the Conference Board, explained in a statement. “Instead, they plan to mitigate risk by accelerating innovation and digital transformation, pursuing new opportunities in higher-growth markets, and revising business models—the three most-cited actions.”

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