To Understand the Weak U.S. Hiring Numbers, Look in the Mirror

Finances mirror
Finances mirror

Don't bring your work stress home -- it's a staple tip in self-help books. But what about bringing your personal financial feelings to work? If you run or own a business, those gut instincts may meld with and affect your professional decisions. Has the downturn caused you to cancel the landscaping service? Scale back the housekeeper? If that's what is happening under your own roof, it's not too big a leap to understand why you might be tentative to hire, and why the nation's job numbers are so dismal.

"There is almost a universal misunderstanding of the 27 million businesses that create the vast majority of jobs in this country," Brian Hamilton, CEO of Sageworks, points out. "Only about 5,000 businesses in the country are public companies. The rest are privately held, run by people, who -- like the rest of us -- worry about paying their bills, sending their kids to college, and/or saving for retirement."

In other words, they're practical. They have to be. Hamilton goes on to argue it's only logical in this environment that such businesspeople would try to control their biggest operating cost -- personnel. "If someone told you that you might lose your job next month, would you start spending more money?" he asks.

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If you treat your company's money the way you would your own, when it comes to hiring, the allure of "I'll just do it myself" is strong. And, as much as you might like to help someone land a job, it may also feel more humane to postpone. No one with half a heart wants to risk the potential guilt of having to fire someone they've just hired. I'll never forget the head of an exceptionally successful private firm saying, "I hate holiday parties. You meet all the kids, and then when you fire their parents, you see their sad little faces when you try and go to sleep at night."

In 2008, Scrooge hit the holiday parties. CEOs of companies small and large may not be seeing many kids' faces these days. But with unemployment remaining above 9%, sadness abounds.

We'll be speaking on-camera with Brian Hamilton next week about why hiring has been so slow to recover. If you've got specific questions for him, let us know in the comments.