Last month the Department of Labor announced that the economy had lost 95,000 jobs in September, thus keeping the unemployment rate at a stomach-churning 9.6%.
Meanwhile, a key statistic from our latest Duke University/CFO Magazine Business Outlook Survey, which found that a mere 0.7% of CFOs say their companies will hire more full-time workers in the next 12 months, was getting plenty of attention in the mainstream press. Pundits cited it as proof that companies are piling up excessive profits by kicking huge numbers of workers to the curb while forcing the survivors to pick up ever more slack.
Finance executives know all too well that the reality isn't so simple. One CFO who visited our offices recently spoke unhesitatingly about plans to move outsourced manufacturing from China to other countries where labor costs are even lower. A moment later his businesslike tone changed markedly as he described his efforts to recast the jobs of two finance staffers who weren't working out particularly well, because "I just can't put them out on the street in this environment."
The issues around workforce management are only becoming more complex as the economy continues to stumble forward. Companies know they have already made deep cuts, and that any further reductions threaten to create labor and talent shortages that may cost them dearly as a recovery takes hold. At the same time, they have found that necessity has indeed been the mother of invention: forced to operate with fewer workers, they have not only streamlined for near-term survival but will continue to enhance labor efficiency regardless of what the economy brings.
Hence our three-part look at some of the thorniest employment challenges now facing CFOs, from the macro outlook to finance-department restructuring to their own career prospects (see "The Incredible Shrinking Finance Department," "Cold, Cruel World," and "Waiting, Wondering, Worrying"). In the aggregate, these may not qualify as the most entertaining articles we've ever offered, but they provide plenty of actionable advice. Meanwhile, we'll keep our fingers crossed that our next Business Outlook Survey finds that 0.7% figure rising markedly.