Business Leaders’ Optimism at Record Low

Is the American Dream dead?

A new study reveals that optimism in the business community has hit a record low, making many question the root causes, the current dilemmas, and the future of an ideal.

Pandemic fatigue? Inflation fatigue? American Dream fatigue? What’s causing the negative feelings?

In Arthur Miller’s seminal classic, Death of a Salesman, Biff Loman, son of the eponymous salesman, asks, “What am I doing in an office, making a contemptuous, begging fool of myself, when all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am!” While the play went on to win the Pulitzer Prize and has been taught in school ever since, Miller’s classic may ask more questions than it provides answers.

Seventy-three years later, exhausted by a pandemic, the war in Ukraine, Monkeypox, and soaring inflation, Americans are asking the same questions. They deserve answers.

Here’s What the Study Has To Say

JPMorgan Chase polled over 1,500 business leaders in their 2022 Business Leaders Outlook Pulse survey, and the results might shock you.

Only 19% of business leaders say they are optimistic about the American economy for the coming year. That number amounts to the lowest documented percentage in 12 years. It’s also a number that represents a 75% decrease from only last year.

These same business leaders are slightly more optimistic about their success. 71% are confident about their company’s performance, while 55% feel “upbeat” about the industry’s performance. Still, these numbers represent a sharp drop when compared to last year.

What’s causing this widespread pessimism? 71% of business leaders believe the cost of doing business (which includes inflation) is the biggest challenge they currently face. 70% of those polled also believe labor issues – recruiting, hiring, and retaining employees – as a significant problem.

While the pandemic changed how we do business and ushered in a new generation of freelancers who fought against the traditional nine-to-five work model, it dismantled the path to success for business leaders, who now have to forge a new path to success.

Let’s Check In on These Business Leaders

We talked to several business leaders to get their take on the JPMorgan survey and their thoughts and hopes for the future.

“Optimists don’t mind failing,” says Matt Weidle, the Business Development Manager at Buyers Guide. Weidle told us that optimists are more capable of bouncing back in times of crisis than pessimists. “An optimist takes risks and doesn’t mind making difficult choices,” he says, “and they consider professional failure and setbacks to be inevitable parts of life.”

Does it all come down to changing our perceptions?

“Although the climate is in a state of turbulence, I believe that a degree of unwavering optimism is necessary for any business leader,” Max Wesman told us. He's is the COO of GoodHire, and he believes practicing optimism can lead to better results and may even solve the labor problem. “Your behavior trickles down slowly into that of those who work with you,” he says. “Leaders should recognize that their response to situations determines whether their teams feel deflated or empowered.

4.3 million Americans quit their jobs in December, so perhaps Wesman is right: business leaders need to inspire and electrify their employees more.

Find Hope Where You Can

Sean McPheat, the CEO of MTD Training, sees this moment of pessimism as a precipice for real change. “Small businesses have a real chance to compete against the bigger brands, and the Internet actually evens the playing field, giving everyone a chance to stand out,” he says.

With so much emphasis on the negative, business leaders like McPheat view this time of reckoning as a good thing, a necessary shake-up in a world that needs to evolve in order to survive.

It is no longer business as usual. “Everyone is so passionate about healthy personal growth, and they put in the time to learn, especially with the rise in knowledge around burnout and work-life balance,” he says.

Cristina Cason has no time for pessimism either. Despite the gloomy atmosphere that’s fallen over the country, she is looking toward the future. “Despite predictions about a crash, the U.S. housing market has held its ground,” says the real estate investor and co-founder of Texas Family Home Buyers.

“As the number of built-for-sale houses in the market increases, overall prices will see a downward trajectory, and lower prices will pull many prospective buyers back into the market.” Cason’s predictions could help eliminate a housing crisis partly caused by the short-term rental app Airbnb.

Her message to business leaders in the real estate field is simple: “if you have managed to survive up until now, don’t give up; good times are on the horizon.”

While Death of a Salesman is, ultimately, a tragedy, the future of the American Dream doesn’t have to be. Optimism may be low in business, but some leaders are convinced a change is coming.

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This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

Featured Image Courtesy of Unsplash.

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Justin McDevitt is a playwright and essayist from New York City. His latest play HAUNT ME had its first public reading at Theater for the New City in September. He is a contributor for RUE MORGUE where he lends a queer eye to horror cinema in his column STAB ME GENTLY.