It Doesn’t Look Like A Recession To Me

I’ve had many conversations with business and HR leaders about the economy in the last few weeks, and many are worried about a downturn. I just don’t see it happening.

Today’s job numbers were pretty impressive. The US unemployment rate remains at 3.6%, 372,000 jobs were created, and forward-looking segments like professional services, research, and management all grew. And of course, companies are hiring in transportation, leisure, and hospitality. (In May unemployment dropped in 385 of 389 metro areas. and the BLS reports that there are twice as many job openings as there are unemployed people, an all-time high.)

As the WSJ points out, if the US is in a recession, it’s a pretty strange one. Yes, GDP dropped slightly in Q1, but employment keeps rising. I’d suggest something else is going on.

We’ve had almost fourteen years of near-zero interest rates, encouraged by politicians who wanted the Fed to keep the economy growing. That enormous period of monetary growth let consumers and businesses buy, grow, and acquire. Housing prices, asset prices, and the stock market all went up – largely because there was nothing else to do with our money.

Today, as the Fed tightens interest rates, we’re moving back to what I’d call a more “normal economy.” Normal means that the cost of money is measurable, and you as an investor or business person can evaluate buying a stock, a bond, or an asset depending on its return. When one of these assets has zero return, people start doing crazy things. (Buying Crypto, for example.)

Our discussions with hundreds of HR leaders point this out. Nobody has stopped worrying about hiring at all. Talent Acquisition budgets remain robust and nearly every company we talk with is trying to improve mental health, benefits, and employee experience to hold on to the people they have.

(The whole focus of my new book, Irresistible, by the way, is explaining how to do this at scale.)

As we discuss in our newest research, what’s really going on is a very constructive redefinition of industries. Companies are morphing from one business to another, trying to hire, skill, and adapt their jobs for change.

Oil and chemical companies, for example, are getting into battery technology, hydrogen, and solar energy. Banks are getting into digital currencies, digital commerce, payments, and cyber security. Retailers are not only fixing their supply chains, they are getting into healthcare and pharmacy. And healthcare companies are going through one of the biggest transformations of all: redesigning the way we receive clinical care.

In fact we are preparing to launch our Global Workforce Intelligence research this Fall, and you’ll be amazed at what we discovered. In our first two industry studies (healthcare and banking), the transformation taking place in work is pretty amazing. Companies are now implementing what we call “systemic HR solutions,” binding together the Four R’s: recruiting, retention, reskilling, and redesign. As you’ll see later this year, this is a transformational new way to run a company, and it’s now happening nearly everywhere.

Yes, the economy is slowing down, but to me, that’s a good thing. We have been all making money and growing our businesses quite well (despite the pandemic). Now it’s time to be more measured, more discriminating, and better at asset allocation.

There’s one big thing that’s really happening. The role of human capital in the economy continues to rise. With job numbers like we saw today, it’s clear that every company is now in the service business, and we now live in a human-capital centric world. Industries like tech, financial services, professional services, entertainment, leisure, healthcare, and even media are all people-centric industries. And I would suggest that energy and manufacturing are too.

Yes, some over-hyped tech and crypto companies are laying people off. I think the economy is going through a healthy readjustment, we just have to watch how things go in the Fall.

Stay tuned for our huge Learning and Development research coming out later this summer, and the big GWI launch in the Fall.

(PS. Even Paul Krugman now agrees with me about the soft landing.)

Additional Resources

Be Careful With The Layoffs

How Do You Build an Irresistible Company? Here’s how Starbucks, Walmart, Microsoft, Lego Group, L’Oreal, Chevron, and Cedars Sinai thrive.

How Work Design And Job Design Are Holding Companies Back

Unleashing Human Potential: The Real Secret To Business Success