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Why Unemployment Numbers Shouldn’t Matter To You

This week, the government will release federal unemployment numbers. From all indications, it is not going to be good news. Here in Oregon, we are at nearly 10% unemployment and other areas are even worse. There is a lot of gloom and doom going around and it isn’t pretty. We’ve all become numb to news stories about layoffs, sinking stocks and unemployment numbers.

I am telling you though: the only people who should care about unemployment numbers are the people who work for the unemployment office. And I would be worried about those folks as they try to process more applications with less resources (many states are using inexplicable hiring freezes across all state agencies). Why would I suggest this? Three points:

What are you going to do?

Ask yourself what you can do to control the unemployment numbers. You can’t do much except control how many people you insert into the unemployment pool. That means you have to think about yourself and your business first. Those unemployment numbers aren’t going to help or hurt you.

If you are a business owner or manager, that means buckling down and trying to preserve what you have going. If you are an employee, that means trying to stay employed by adding value and helping your employer stay afloat.

If you are part of the unemployed, the only impact you have on that number is yourself. If you’ve ever been unemployed though, you know that the only person that matters is you. So if your competition is 10 people or 100 people for a position, it doesn’t change the circumstance. You still need a job.

What would you change?

The key question I ask people in businesses fretting with unemployment numbers is, based on the numbers you’re seeing out there, what would you change? If you are out of a job, you always have competition. More competition doesn’t always mean better competition though. And having more competition shouldn’t change your strategy.

Some will admit that they wouldn’t change anything and some will start talking about leading economic indicators. Give me a break. If your retirement account loses 25% of its value in two years or your bank is failing, you don’t need unemployment to tell you things are going poorly.

Business As Usual Is Possible

Call me an idealist but great companies should be better prepared than the average company for these sorts of economic situations. Instead of starting to look at cost savings, they’ve already investigated and implemented cost savings. Instead of starting lean manufacturing programs today, they started them years ago and are realizing the flexibility and cost savings. Instead of looking to lay off over-compensated employees, they retooled their compensation a long time ago.

The only thing that isn’t necessarily business as usual is that these companies are often hiring right now, realizing that they can get good employees looking for a solid business.

I don’t believe capitalism always selects the best businesses to succeed (even though I still think it is the best system). There are obviously a lot of factors there. But I think, at least in this case, a lot of the companies being plunked in mergers and pennies-on-the-dollar acquisitions were weaker companies that weren’t well positioned to begin with.

For companies that have either failed or been merged or acquired, the unemployment rate had nothing to do with that and won’t have anything to do with it. Ever. So stop fretting it and make your impact the most important one: your job, your business and your life.

By Lance Haun

Strategy for The Starr Conspiracy. Former HR pro. Portland guy (Go Blazers!) and WSU alum (Go Cougs!). I get to write about what I want here.

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