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Executive employment: the end of the euphoria

Not as good as yesterday, but still not worrying.

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Executive employment: the end of the euphoria

Not as good as yesterday, but still not worrying. At the start of 2024, executive employment is entering a troubled period. The decline in hiring intentions observed during the last six months of 2023 should continue or even increase next year, reveals the latest barometer published this Thursday by Apec (association for executive employment). Concretely, the study carried out at the beginning of December among 2,000 executives and 1,000 companies highlights that only 10% of bosses plan to recruit one of these qualified profiles over the next three months. For comparison, 14% responded positively a year earlier. The fall is particularly brutal in large structures (-10 points). A reluctance which can be explained by the loss of confidence in the level of their future order book. This has fallen by 3% since the last quarter of 2023, to the lowest since March 2021.

Worrying on paper, the slowdown must however be put into perspective, warns Gilles Gateau, director general of Apec: “this trend comes after years of euphoria”, he underlines. During 2020, in full confinement, many were concerned about the impact of this period on the job market. In fact, the following three years were historically successful. By the end of 2023, France had created more than 1.2 million jobs in the private sector compared to before the health crisis, according to INSEE, which published a note on the subject this Wednesday, January 7. Among them, many executive positions.

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However, this improvement turned into overheating, as employers' needs exceeded supply. Symbol of this euphoria, the executive unemployment rate fell to 4.1% in 2022 and even 3.5% in 2023. Well below the threshold of full employment, located around 5%, while at the same time the average for unemployed workers nationwide was 7.4%. As a result, shortages of managerial labor have soared. In 2022, nearly 85% of business leaders reported difficulties in their hiring plans for these qualified profiles.

Paradoxically, the current slowdown is good news, at least for employers, who hope to be able to recruit more easily. In the latest Apec barometer, the share of business leaders anticipating difficulties in their hiring projects fell to 72%. The figure, still high, shows that these employees remain in high demand... Provided that the trend does not drag on. Gilles Gateau wants to be reassuring, “currently we are not particularly worried”.

Despite this reassuring data, a wave of mistrust has gripped French executives. Yesterday they were quick to change companies to improve their salary or working conditions, but today they are less inclined to take risks. Only 9% of them now say they are actively looking for a job, compared to 12% a year earlier. In this, the most qualified profiles join a general trend in the entire French labor market, where the number of resignations is decreasing. After peaking at 566,000 during the second quarter of 2023, their number experienced an initial decline, falling to 518,000 in the following three months. And the trend is expected to continue. This loss of confidence is not good news for employees as external mobility has been a powerful tool for improving salaries in recent years in several ways. Directly leaving for a better paid position. And indirectly, by pushing business leaders who could to preventively increase salaries to retain their employees.

However, the government is observing this reversal of curves with concern. If the executive initially sought to present it as a parenthesis in a positive trend, the discourse is now looking for a solution to boost employment. During his speech on January 16, the President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron, promised “act two of the labor reform next spring”, without however detailing its content. For his part, the president of Medef, Patrick Martin, warned that the objective of full employment will not be achievable “without an underlying economic activity”. The boss of bosses therefore calls on political power “to relaunch supply-side policy”.

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