Inspired Ideas for Retaining Staffers

As the economy shows signs of slowly emerging from the recession, companies are beginning to resume projects put on hold. The latest Robert Half Technology IT Hiring Index and Skills Report shows that nearly 80% of technology executives are confident in their companies' prospects for growth in the second quarter.

As your company starts to move forward again, keeping key personnel will be critical to your efforts.

But retaining your most valued employees may not be as easy as you think. A separate survey by Robert Half International and CareerBuilder found that 55% of workers plan to change employers, careers or industries when conditions improve. Your team may already be thinking about opportunities with other employers or be targeted by competitors that are ramping up their staffing levels.

Compensation remains one of the most powerful retention tools, but what if your organization isn't in a position to offer big raises or lavish bonuses? By taking a creative approach to retention, you can uncover powerful new ways to keep your best people on board. The Christian Science Monitor recently described creative retention strategies used by three companies on Fortune's current list of "100 Best Companies to Work For."

Career development. Ernst & Young creates a personalized career development map for every employee. This framework helps staffers see where they are, where they can go within the organization and, as specifically as possible, how they can get there.

Work/life balance. Accenture's "future leave" policy lets employees put some of their salary into an account that funds a future sabbatical to address other priorities in their lives.

Recognition. Marriott International celebrates 10 outstanding employees with a gala celebration at company headquarters. The event demonstrates the value the company puts on exceptional work.

While these particular programs may not fit your organization, they exemplify the fundamental concept behind rethinking retention: taking the time and making the effort to customize retention efforts based on your employees' needs and concerns, rather than merely providing the "standard" offerings.

That means the first step is listening to your team and finding out what they value. What types of rewards or programs would they appreciate most? Even if you can't fulfill their every wish, their input can spark improvements, help you avoid unwise investments and serve as inspirations for the future, when your company may be able to incorporate their suggestions. Some companies even use the input they get from staffers to create a list of reward options, letting each employee choose what he wants.

Creative retention efforts can start small. Coffee sessions with company leaders can promote a sense of unity and openness. You might also consider ways to contribute to your employees' overall well-being. Gym memberships or other health-centered programs can build a more personal connection between the firm and its workers. Another possibility is to support positive lifestyle choices -- with allowances for environmentally friendly transportation, for example.

Remember, though, that even the most creative initiative can go stale. Periodically review your retention programs and determine whether they still make sense by finding out what employees think, either through informal conversations or formal surveys.

Innovative retention programs draw part of their power from the effort that goes into devising and implementing them. Such initiatives demonstrate an employer's willingness to devote time and energy to understanding -- and then trying to fulfill -- employees' needs. The result can be the type of bond that keeps a key staff member on board when opportunity starts knocking.

Dave Willmer is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a provider of IT professionals.

Next: Opinion: Creative ways to battle the talent wars

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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