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Companies should take steps now to retain valued workers

The best and brightest are itching to move on.

Soon after the Labor Department said November's national jobless rate fell from 10.2 to 10 percent, my in-box filled with reminders about employee dissatisfaction.

Recent surveys have found that 40 to 60 percent of employees intend to look for new opportunities as soon as the job market improves, possibly next year.

Hot on the heels of those worker-dissatisfaction reminders came a different round of management consulting missives. The gist: It's possible to keep the talent you want to keep.

The rewards and retention industry was somewhat quieted by the recession. Workers, including some great employees, were being jettisoned for budget, not performance, reasons.

Remaining workers held on for dear life, afraid to make any job search noises lest they be viewed as an attitude problem or disloyal.

But the first sign of stability in hiring brought the employee morale issue to the forefront. Employers are warned that "employee engagement" is broken, and now is the time to mend it.

How? Start by restoring pay cuts as soon as possible.

In the 1990s, compensation wasn't the big driver of employee engagement. In fact, pay ranked fourth or fifth on many lists of what kept people on the job.

But pay and benefits reductions since 2001, coupled with the relentless push for workers to take up the workload of departed staff, have changed workplace dynamics. Now, money talks.

Workforce Management magazine devoted a recent cover story to "why employers need to act now to get workers back on their side." The prime focus was on unfreezing pay freezes and giving raises or bonuses to valued employees.

But what if business can't afford to restore pay cuts and give raises?

Diane Stafford is the workplace and careers columnist at Kansas City Star.

Here are nonfinancial must-do remedies:

Tell employees who work hard that they are valued. Make sure they know this by a simple "thank you" or compliment for their work. (And that doesn't mean doing it once a year in a formal performance evaluation. It means every day, if warranted.)

• Assess and readjust workloads to make sure the most competent employees aren't overwhelmed.

• Assess and readjust work assignments to make sure priorities are being handled and that discretionary or less important things that used to be done with larger staffs are no longer sapping time and energy.

• Make it clear that naysayers and office gossipers don't help. Encourage more feedback, and share more business information. Misinformation usually gets spread in a knowledge vacuum.

• Don't be dogmatic about squashing naysaying. Provide opportunities for employees to say what's on their minds and ask questions. Encourage them to contribute tales and ideas from the front line.

Companies should take steps now to retain valued workers 12/20/09 [Last modified: Sunday, December 20, 2009 3:30am]
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