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Published Jun. 29, 2010

By Diane Stafford - McClatchy-Tribune Newspapers

There was an interesting juxtaposition of online headlines in the new Workforce Management magazine: "Work-Life Balance Becoming a Key Tool for Retention" and "Most Employers Aren't Combating Workplace Stress."

Reports say that lack of workplace flexibility - the ability to juggle work hours to take care of home-based needs - may now be the top reason why workers look for new jobs.

This is crucial information for employers who want to hold on to good employees.

Earlier this year, for the first time since October 2008, the number of workers who quit their jobs voluntarily exceeded the number who were let go by employers in firings or downsizings.

Surveys taken at the end of last year found that up to two-thirds of workers intended to hunt for a job when the economy improved. New employment numbers indicate that time is near, if not here.

Laura Johannesmeyer, who convenes job transition support groups at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kan., said many participants - some of whom were out of work for 14 months or more - landed jobs in the last few weeks.

"We've had successes in all professions and all over the job market," she said. "We're seeing some high-level professionals recouping what they lost."

For two years, as the recession ground on, most job hunters, if they found work, took jobs beneath their skill and pay levels.

Meanwhile, the downsized organizations placed extraordinary stress on remaining employees, with consequences on emotional, and sometimes physical, health.

The search for workplace flexibility, pioneered by working mothers of young children, is no longer confined to that demographic. It's widespread.

More employers are beginning to construct "results-oriented" work environments that focus on getting the job done - whenever, however, wherever.

That's not possible in every job, but it's a tool that goes a long way toward retaining workers who have options to leave inflexible environments.