It’s amazing how much can change in a year.

In January 2020, Indeed published its first annual report on worker confidence. It was a different time where confidence reigned: the job market was the strongest in decades, the economy was booming and both workers and job seekers were in the driver’s seat. The future seemed bright.

But life is full of twists and turns. Since that time, the COVID-19 pandemic upended the workplace in ways no one imagined — resulting in layoffs, furloughs and, in many sectors, a widespread shift to remote work. But how did the pandemic impact worker confidence? 

To find out, Indeed surveyed 804 employees from a variety of sectors and job levels around the U.S. in November 2020. And, despite the tremendous shifts in work brought by COVID-19, employees remain surprisingly confident. Let’s take a look at the numbers.

70% of workers confident in their employers’ prospects, despite economic troubles

The workers we surveyed are matter-of-fact about the current predicament: 69% “strongly” or “somewhat agree” that the U.S. economy is weak, and 68% say the same about the labor market.

However, workers believe these are short-term trends: 58% agree the economy will be strong in two years, and slightly more (64%) believe it will be strong five years down the road. Respondents feel the same way about the job market, with most agreeing it will regain strength in either two or five years (58% and 62%, respectively). 

Over half of the workers we surveyed have faced negative professional fallout from the pandemic: 24% were furloughed, 20% have had their hours reduced, 8% were laid off and an additional 5% have experienced other issues.

Interestingly, though, this didn’t diminish their confidence — in a surprise twist, 38% say knowing about a weak job market actually makes them more confident in their employer, and 34% say it has no impact (only 27% say the weak labor market makes them less confident in their employers).

What’s more, despite the economic and job market concerns, nearly 70% of all workers say their employer will be stronger in two years. 

Tough labor market boosts confidence for largest number of workers

Broadly speaking, workers’ confidence in the labor and economic climate translates into optimism about their careers and prospects. While confidence levels are lower than in 2019, the majority of respondents are still positive.

Similar to the way they feel about their employers, among the workers we surveyed, the largest number (37%) say the weak labor market makes them even more confident in their career prospects, while 29% report that it has no impact. Whether this is a sign of optimism, denial, resiliency or a mix of all three, these workers have faith in themselves and their employers to persevere and ultimately pull through.

However, while respondents feel confident about sticking with the path they’re already on, many plan to avoid big changes: 44% say a weaker job market makes them less likely to take a risk in their career, which could pose problems for firms in a position to hire. 

Clear majorities of workers — though fewer than in 2019 — remain confident about reaching their career objectives for the coming year. Down from 93% last year, 81% are confident they can reach their established one-year career goals. 

Taking a longer view, 79% are confident about reaching their five-year goals, compared to 88% the previous year. Meanwhile, 75% are optimistic they will meet their goals over the duration of their career, down from 84% in late 2019.

Chart: Worker confidence in meeting career goals over time.

Over 70% believe they could find a new job, but work-life balance is harder to attain

While the booming job market of 2019 feels far away, workers haven’t let the stress of the pandemic dampen their confidence about job opportunities.

Over 70% remain “very” or “moderately confident” in their ability to easily find a new job, should they choose to do so: 76% believe there are open jobs that match their skills and experience, down from 91% last year. And despite shifts in the labor market, 82% of workers believe their skill sets remain valuable.

Notably, workers are now less confident in their ability to secure a job that matches their desired work-life balance. 

While 88% expressed confidence about this last year, the number has dropped to 71% in 2020. This makes sense, given that remote work has virtually eliminated clear boundaries between work and home during the pandemic.

Despite this challenge, 66% of respondents are confident they could get a job that matches their long-term needs if they sought one, and the majority of workers (71%) do not think the pandemic will harm their careers in the long run.

Amidst the crisis, most workers remain confident in managers

2020 was a nail-biter for U.S. workers, and some sectors fared better than others. Relationships between workers and managers took on a new urgency as everyone learned to negotiate shifts in where and how they worked. 

For employees at home, this has meant navigating life away from the office. For those on-site, it requires learning to mitigate new risks. In either case, it requires new levels of trust between workers and their managers — with both sides clearly communicating their needs, concerns and expectations.

But most managers have risen to the challenge: 73% of workers say their managers provide the support they need to work effectively in the current climate, and 75% say their managers provide the flexibility they need to do so. 

The majority (72%) also feel confident speaking with their managers about pandemic-related challenges, such as balancing caregiving responsibilities with work. And even in these uncertain times, most workers (70%) say their managers want them to continue advancing in their careers. 

When it comes to wellbeing, most workers also say their bosses have their backs. The majority agree that their employer cares about their physical (72%) and mental health (71%). 

COVID-19 tests worker confidence, but optimism still reigns

While 2020 brought immense challenges for workers, our survey shows that most retained their pre-pandemic confidence. 

Despite doubts about the current labor market and economy, employees anticipate quick recoveries. Most believe the pandemic will not impact their long-term goals — they simply need to be patient and weather the storm.

The majority of workers feel they have valuable skills and could find a good job if necessary. However, they are slightly less confident than last year in their ability to find work that matches their experience or their desired work-life balance.

But with many finding managers supportive amidst the pandemic’s challenges, it’s likely they’ll sit tight before making a move — especially since the current labor market makes them more risk-averse.

U.S. workers took the challenges of 2020 in stride. If their confidence is any indicator, the future will reward those who wait.