RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — A new survey has a stark message for business leaders: Buckle up for what could be a risky decade ahead.

Concerns about both COVID-19 restrictions, along with attracting and keeping talented workers, figure to dominate both the short- and long-term landscape for businesses, according to a survey of 1,500 business leaders to gauge their top concerns both in 2022 and in 10 years from now.

The study by researchers from North Carolina State University and consulting firm Protiviti finds COVID accounting for two of the top three risks for businesses this year.

Finding and retaining their best employees was one of the most mentioned risks both this year and a decade from now.

“What strikes me as, really, for 2022, what executives seem to be most concerned about tie into talent and culture,” said Mark Beasley, the director of the Enterprise Risk Management Initiative of N.C. State’s Poole College of Management and the report’s co-author.

Coming on the heels of a previous survey that showed 2020 was the riskiest year for businesses since the mid-2000s, this one predicts a volatile decade to come with worries that emerged earlier in the pandemic showing no sign of fading.

The top risk this year involved pandemic-related government policies and regulations, and how they could impact business performance. A drop in customer demand, related to the pandemic, was No. 3.

“I think there’s a lingering just concern of the uncertainty,” Beasley said. “As we now know, with omicron, things change on us pretty quickly, and how regulations change, and maybe government policies (are) a part of that. But then it can be abroad or just expectation, loosely call that a regulation, but just how we’re supposed to react.”

Beasley says COVID “changed the world” because working remotely became more mainstream. 

That, in turn, gave employees more flexibility — “They can be sitting in North Carolina, working for a California company,” he said — and set off the “Great Resignation” by giving workers more options and putting pressure on their employers to keep them happy.

“Now I can look at those opportunities and realize I don’t have to pack up my house and move,” he said. “It comes out in, I think, a number of dimensions in our top risk. … It’s just the concern about succession planning and challenges, really worrying about what do I do if when top leadership and key leaders leave? And do we have the bench strength for people to step in? And I think I think that’s becoming a big concern.”

The top risks for the coming decade center around data and new technology that could change the fundamentals of business.

“What could be the next Amazon, in essence, that comes our way, that can totally come out of nowhere and disrupt how we do business?” Beasley said. “Tied to that is just taking advantage of all the data that entities have.”

Beasley says executives and advisors need to be aware of those risks and remain on the lookout for others that might arise.

“My point is, don’t assume that as a CEO, your insight about risk is necessarily a complete view of what’s on the horizon,” he said. “I think others in the organization have very different views because we’re seeing striking differences and viewpoints about what the risk concerns are. So I would just say get engaged in a dialogue in a conversation and I think it’d be very informative for leading the organization.”