Firms Still Face a Fight to Retain Top Talent

Article excerpt

Pssst:.. Hey, all you managers out there. Here's a tip: Forget about the slowing economy. Forget about all the layoffs. And don't be smug about those college graduates who've become more interested in finding stable jobs than stock options.

The question of the hour: Are you doing enough to keep your workers happy?

It's something every employer should be considering right now - despite the nation's cooling economy, according to a range of workplace consultants and experts. Although layoffs make headlines, they say, the real news is that keeping good workers on the job is more important - and harder - than it has ever been.

"Retention is critically important," says Roger Herman, CEO of the Greensboro, N.C.-based Herman Group and a futurist who concentrates on workplace trends.

He's gone so far as to issue a warning to companies: "We've said, You're fools to layoff your people, because you won't get them back."

Holding on to employees makes good financial sense, too. Experts estimate it can cost as much as 2 1/2 times an employee's salary to replace him or her once you allow for the costs of recruiting, training, and the like.

Experts say the urgency of the employee-retention issue can be chalked up in part to changing times: The number of jobs nationwide is expected to continue to grow for the next several years, even as the number of potential employees to fill those jobs continues to shrink.

In fact, by the year 2006, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be 151 million jobs in the country - but only 141 million people to fill them.

Even today, amid a downturn, an estimated 400,000 jobs remain open. And for employees who've been laid off in recent months, finding new jobs has been relatively easy - most find new work within an average of five weeks, experts say.

The retention issue is also driven by changing attitudes - specifically, changing employee attitudes. Over the past five to 10 years, the New Economy has brought new ideas about work, including a "free agent" mentality among employees and a greater comfort with changing jobs on a regular basis.

"Thanks to the New Economy, we've woken up to the fact that employees realize their careers are in their hands," says Beverly Kaye, a consultant and co-author with Sharon Jordan-Evans of "Love 'Em or Lose 'Em: Getting Good People to Stay." "They've taken the ball, and they're running with it."

In recent years, many employers have responded to the tight job market with "work/life" programs designed to accommodate employees' lives beyond their day-to-day work duties.

Dotcom companies became infamous for pioneering many of these perks, including catered lunches and free car-wash services. But the mainstream workplace hasn't been far behind: Today's work/life programs include everything from flexible work schedules and programs to help workers care for older relatives, to on-site dry- cleaning, photo-developing, shoe-repair, and errand-running services.

"At the core of all this ... is anything that focuses on time, because time is such a huge commodity," says Cathy Saka, a work/ life consultant for Hewitt Associates, an international employee- benefits consulting firm. "Our clients are coming to us and asking us to draft programs that focus on giving employees more time. …