Where maturity may pay off

Sober days have found us. This new bear market is no huggable cub, and it's unclear how long it could take US investors to shoo the beast away.

They'll have to stop feeling for the bottom and start buying stock again. That takes confidence, and all that pundits and pols seem able to offer so far is confusion.

Time to take comfort in some truths. Investors with a broad range of holdings - across several sectors and in firms of varying size - should do fine over time.

Many people foraging for jobs amid cutbacks will find them in new places, as small and mid-size firms grow to fill gaps.

Unemployment remains low by historical standards, though charts of "available workers" - those out of a job or looking to bail out in advance of becoming jobless - now show an uptick.

Frims doing any new hiring will be looking for stability, flexibility, and passion. Sound mundane? Gallup called 19 percent of the 1,000 workers it recently polled "actively disengaged" - unclear about their duties, and disloyal.

Such workers cost companies billions. In streamlined times, there will be less tolerance for them. Employers already report a rise in fast, corrective "mishires," especially among recent grads, says the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. Some older, more experienced workers may fit the bill.

What else might firms do to gird themselves in unforgiving times? Focus on those they serve - and expand their markets. The current Harvard Business Review cites a University of Michigan study that correlates customer satisfaction with stock value.

Scan the landscape again. One group eager to be addressed as consumers: seniors.

Reach us at work@csps.com.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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