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Time for employers to focus on keeping top talent

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The economy still has a long climb to recovery in 2011, but some employers already are considering how to retain the talent they have even as they struggle with layoffs or cautiously look to add new staff.

Recruiters say that will become even more important as the economy improves.

"Retention will be huge, and companies maybe are not paying attention to that because they're so focused on the bottom line," said Amelya Stevenson, president of the Sacramento Human Resource Association.

"People have been extremely thankful that they've had a job, but now that things are blowing over, employers need to tell their employees — out loud — that they are thankful for their service," said Kim Parker, executive vice president of the California Employers Association.

Employees are reading the news and seeing their employers' improving fortunes, said local market researcher Rick Reed. They have survived the downturn with its budget cuts, wage freezes and layoffs and want to be rewarded for their perseverance. "Exports are up . . . and the U.S. banks are making record profits. Stocks are above 12,000. Employees are asking, 'When does that reach the street?' " said Reed.

Employers are starting to hear the message. Average hourly earnings rose by 8 cents in January or $3.20 over a 40-hour workweek, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, while wages have risen by nearly 2 percent over the past year.

Parker, of the California Employers Association, said she's hearing from employers who are lifting wage freezes, restoring 401(k) retirement matching funds and resurrecting training programs.

Still, in a volatile job market, employees may be looking for new opportunities, particularly in the information technology sector.

Online tech job postings are on the rise, but salaries remain largely flat. Workers are caught in what tech careers website calls an "infinite loop" of stagnant wages, even as demand for their skills grows.

"Turnover is likely going to increase in 2011. Tech workers are looking for more at this point," said Tom Silver, a senior vice president. About 40 percent of workers surveyed by believe they can make more money if they switch firms in 2011. "People figure they can make more money if they change employers," Silver said.

"Retention needs to be something employers think about," said Kimberly Stiener-Murphy, a Sacramento manager for employment firm Robert Half International. "The employee . . . is going to be open to opportunity. Jobs are growing and people are going to keep their eyes open."

Siemens Mobility employs 750 workers at its south Sacramento plant and late last year landed a lucrative Amtrak contract that will add 200 more workers over the next two years.

But parent company Siemens AG didn't wait to acknowledge its current employees, doling out a nearly $100 million "special payment" in December to its U.S. workers "for their extraordinary performance in a difficult time," said Siemens AG president and CEO Peter Loscher.

But retention perks take many forms, and they often go beyond money.

At the small Sacramento insurance firm Rood & Dax, employees can take a quiet moment in a meditation room, can order chair massages and are rewarded for volunteering in their communities.

Time for employers to focus on keeping top talent 03/12/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 12, 2011 5:09pm]
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