Monday, April 19, 2010

Will the Economy Rebound Before Employment

I have seen it happen over and over again.  Entrepreneurs and business owners hire people and then they grow to like them.  They build a culture of family and they genuinely feel a sense of pride in and responsibility for providing employment and security for so many families.

Then, when times get tough, they struggle to let people go because of this same sense of pride and responsibility.  These same entrepreneurs don’t hesitate to sell equipment, downsize their office, or cut other non-human expenses.  So why can’t they just look at their employees as an asset or a piece of equipment to sell or dispose of when they need to lean-up their operations?

I know, this question sounds silly.  Obviously we don’t build much of a real relationship with a piece of equipment, and we don’t personally know of a wife and five kids that the piece of equipment is trying to support.  So, what does this have to do with our ongoing high levels of unemployment in this country?

We have all heard the statistic from the SBA that that just over half of private employees are employed by small businesses.  And I would argue that the small businesses are those that have more of a tendency to view their employees as real people and real families – in fact, sometimes a good portion of their employees are family members.  In this context, I submit that owners and executives of the small businesses of America are still wounded from having to let people go during the recession.

Where a few years ago it was common to see entrepreneurs hire a new person at even the prospect of the need, these same entrepreneurs, still bruised from some tough times, are much more hesitant to pull the trigger on new hires.  Phrases like: “Let’s hold off on hiring until we are absolutely certain we need another person,” and “I’m fine to authorize overtime until we can really justify adding to the staff,” have become the new norm.

Even though the Business Outlook Survey published in CFO Magazine is predicting double-digit rates of growth in both earnings and capital spending over the next 12 months, it is also predicting much slower employment growth.  When asked why employment would lag behind other positive trends, two of the top three responses highlighted the reliance on :

- 44% plan to increase productivity per employee

- 37% will increase production efficiency

Entrepreneurs are simply asking for more from their current employees and looking to technology and automation to grow.  They learned their lesson and, as a result, are accelerating our economy’s change to a more efficient playing field, relying on people to add high-level value than fulfill lower-level tasks.

So, as the economy rebounds, it only makes sense that employment will lag behind.