Half of chief executives here saw no changes to the number of employees in their business in the last year, despite the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic new research has found. 

A quarter of leaders though did see the numbers they employed fall, with a similar proportion seeing their headcount rise across 2020.

In relation to sales, 50% said they had decreased over the last 12 months, with 20% recording an increase and a quarter reporting they had remained the same.

The survey of 381 CEOs across a range of sectors, carried out by employers' organisation Ibec, also found that 51% of respondents have seen absence rates in their firms remain the same since the pandemic began, while 29% have seen them increase.?? 

88% cited the global economic downturn as one of the main challenges their business faces this year.

This was followed by the challenge of achieving profitability and the fallout from Brexit.

The availability of talent also remains a concern for three out of every four chief executives.

A similar number said the impact the pandemic has had on collaboration and innovation has been a challenge.

While 72% are concerned about the challenge of returning staff to the office once the pandemic ends.

Half also referred to the low carbon transition agenda as a challenge.

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"In 2021, Irish business will have to deal with a much-altered landscape in both local and global terms, as the new post-Brexit reality continues to take shape and?Covid?disruptions?endure," said Ibec boss, Danny McCoy.

"The findings show that despite these challenges, CEOs are?looking beyond this?disruptive?period that we find ourselves?in,?that they?are buoyed by the prospect of the?widespread?availability of a?vaccine?in the coming months?and are now?planning accordingly."?

Speaking to Morning Ireland, Danny McCoy said he was optimistic that Brexit-related delays currently being experienced at ports would be worked through.

"The majority knew administrative rules were going to change. The precise details have caught people a little bit by surprise, but it will work through and hopefully we'll see Covid work through this year as well."

On the current business closures that may now extend into the second quarter of the year, Mr McCoy said the Government had the resources and it had to be prioritised for the sectors that have been shuttered, for up to a year in some cases.

"It's important that we get this right, that we actually suppress the virus to the point where the vaccines can help. What we need is to make sure that this lockdown actually is effective. It's in everybody's interest," he said.

Two thirds of those who answered the survey said Covid-19 will mean a permanent change to their business models.

Among the main focuses for the respondents over the next three years are increased investment in technology, succession planning and development of new products and services.

The CEOs are also looking to promote inclusivity in their firms as well as the development of new business processes for existing products.