Companies in the Middle East were more likely to have reduced staff than their counterparts in the U.S., China and India, according to a survey by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) of 1,481 accounting and finance professionals in China, India, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the U.S.
U.S. companies were least likely to cut employee compensation; their Chinese counterparts tended to maintain salaries while trimming bonuses, according to the IMA survey.
Businesses during the pandemic have rebalanced their time spent on various finance-related functions, with 44% of respondents focusing more on risk management and 34% curtailing "business partnering/decision support," according to the survey.
Congress approved about $3.5 trillion in pandemic rescue spending last year to avert layoffs, aid unemployed workers and tide over businesses.
Some $525 billion in loans under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) cushioned the blow from COVID-19 in 2020, helping 5.2 million small businesses maintain employment for 51 million U.S. workers, according to the Small Business Administration (SBA). Congress in December approved $284 billion in additional PPP loans.
The Federal Reserve expects the 6.7% U.S. unemployment rate and other economic indicators will improve as the distribution of coronavirus vaccines allows businesses to increase hiring and resume more normal operations.
"While we should not underestimate the challenges we currently face, several developments point to an improved outlook for later this year," Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said during a Jan. 27 press conference. He cited the spread of vaccinations, as well as stimulus from fiscal and monetary policy.
The U.S. economy will likely grow 5.1% in 2021, according to an International Monetary Fund forecast released on Jan. 26. Economic growth in China, which curbed the virus last year, will probably speed up to 8.1% in 2021, the IMF said.
Twelve percent of respondents to the IMA survey expressed concern that their current skills will not be relevant after the pandemic wanes, with 10% saying they’re unsure about their skill relevance in the post-coronavirus future, IMA said.
At the same time, 68% of the finance professionals surveyed said the pandemic has increased their interest in gaining new skills, and 58% said that COVID-19 will likely prove as disruptive to job skills in finance as digital transformation.
When asked about the biggest staff-related challenges, 38% of the finance professionals identified enabling staff to work from home, 37% cited ensuring the safety of staff in the workplace and 26% identified training staff on the tools needed for working remotely, IMA said.
The pandemic hit tourism, travel and hospitality especially hard, with 13% of respondents in those industries furloughed and 58% experiencing pay cuts, according to the survey.