A new global survey reveals that CEOs view a recession as their biggest external concern for 2019. They cited attracting and retaining talent as their top internal concern.

A potential recession and attracting and retaining talent topped CEOs’ external and internal concerns for 2019 in The Conference Board’s annual C-Suite Challenge survey. The survey of more than 800 CEOs and over 600 other C-suite executes in the U.S., Asia and Europe also identified global political instability, leader development and trade as other issues that have them feeling uneasy.

“While CEOs are quite anxious about the external challenges the global economy poses to their businesses right now, the survey results suggest they’re aware of the need to stay focused on the longer-term disruptive forces impacting their future go-to-market plans,” says Bart van Ark, Ph.D., a report author and chief economist of The Conference Board. “That awareness reinforces the need to continue the development of new business models, a strategy that will be tempting to neglect if and when the economy starts slowing.”

Globally, CEOs rank a recession as the No. 1 external concern for 2019. In contrast, in 2018 concerns about a recession came in at No. 19 in The Conference Board’s survey. Looking at the results on a regional basis, some differences emerge. Globally, threats to global trade come in as the second largest external concern, but among U.S. CEOs the issue ranks at No. 4. Similarly, globally, global political instability ranks at No. 3, but among Europe’s CEOs it comes in at the top spot. And while U.S. CEOs rank cyber security as their No. 1 external concern for 2019, China’s CEOs rank it as No. 10.

Internally, across all regions, CEOs rank attracting and retaining top talent as their No.1 internal concern, while developing the next generation of leaders is the third internal concern for CEOs globally. Globally, CEOs say their second biggest internal concern is creating new business models due to disruptive technology, compliance with data privacy regulations scores relatively high in Europe at eighth, compared to 10th globally. In China, better alignment of compensation and incentives with business performance is becoming more important as wage pressures increase. There, it’s the second main internal concern compared to No.4 globally. Chinese CEOs also rate volatility in cash flow highly, as their No.4 concern, which is a reflection of rapid changes in business financing as government restricts funding.

“As global competition increases while the pool of available workers decreases, it comes as no surprise that executives cited talent as a top issue in 2019 that’s keeping them up at night,” says Rebecca Ray, Ph.D., a report author and the executive vice president of human capital at The Conference Board. “Moreover, they think talent shortages will only intensify beyond 2019, which underscores why organizations should constantly reexamine how they’re attracting and retaining their best and brightest.”