Employers working to sell employees on their jobs

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Savvy employers haven’t waited: Although unemployment remains high in Colorado and elsewhere, they’re already doing all they can to retain their best and brightest.

That’s because as the economy recovers, employees are eyeing the door.

Retention is key, because the bottom line suffers when employers lose workers and have to spend time and money to hire and train new people.

“Companies are running (employment) ads and they are hiring,” said Katie Essman, branch manager for Accountemps Robert Half International in Colorado Springs.

“What we’re seeing is that companies are starting to hire again, and it feels like things are starting to turn.”

Employers, she said, already are offering incentives, bonuses and, if possible, raises.

“It’s a huge mistake not to offer incentives,” Essman said.

“Employees have hung on for an entire year — they will leave their organization for more money, a better work environment, more flexibility within their schedule and for growth potential,” she said.

Seventy-six percent of executives interviewed for the latest Accountemps survey said they are willing to “sweeten the pot” to avoid losing their best employees.

Once the economy gets back on its feet, half of the chief financial officers said they plan to promote top performers, while 48 percent intend to give raises.

Another 41 percent will increase investment in professional development, while 32 percent will enhance benefits, 26 percent will increase or reinstate bonuses, and 24 percent will do nothing.

“If 24 percent don’t give incentives, that will create quite a bit of change at that top-performer level,” Essman said. “It would be a catastrophic mistake, coming out of this downturn, to not look at ways to retain good employees.”

Employees made sacrifices for their employers during the recession. Now they’re looking for the employer to give back to them, she said.

Retention techniques

“Every employer should always be concerned about retaining employees,” said Kathy Boe, founder and CEO of Boecore, a local engineering and information technology services company with more than 100 employees.

Offering training and certification for employees should be an ongoing effort, to help them grow in their careers, so they don’t look to leave when the economy improves.

“We are always focused on creating opportunities for our employees — it doesn’t slow down during a recession. It’s a full-time commitment,” Boe said.

At Boecore, retention strategies include fair pay, competitive benefits packages, ongoing training/certification, tuition reimbursement and a “shared success program,” similar to profit sharing.

“In a good economy or bad economy, your A-level employees always have options about where they want to work,” Boe said.

Low engagement, loss of revenue

There’s another reason to treat employees well.

A Taleo Research study showed that companies with highly engaged employees have 26 percent higher revenue per employee, and that, over the past five years, have had a 13 percent greater total return to shareholders.

In North America, only 29 percent of employees are “engaged”; 27 percent are “almost engaged”; and fully 19 percent are “disengaged,” with the remaining 25 percent headed toward disengagement.

Being transparent about career and succession planning will help keep employees engaged and retained.

“If (employers) have a good employee and want to retain them, then they should have a direct conversation with them — so employees feel secure in their position. Otherwise, there’s no reason for employees to stick around,” said Kim S. Koy, director of the Southern regional office of the Mountain States Employers Council.

For most, however, training — one of the ways to keep employees engaged in their jobs — is one of the first expenses that employers cut during economic downturns.

Although many employers aren’t yet ready to reinstate training, they have been handing out cost-of-living raises during the first quarter of this year, Koy said.

The little things matter

Even employers who cannot afford training, raises or promotions can still show their appreciation and recognize their employees.

One way is by holding community fundraisers that double as teambuilding events.

Another is through recognition — individually, by sending thank-you notes or small gift cards to employees to acknowledge their efforts, and by public recognition among their peers.

“If at a minimum you not only understand what they’re doing, but you recognize their contribution, they are more likely to stay,” Boe said.

Moreover, the little things in life do matter.

Small tokens of appreciation, such as birthday parties, potlucks and providing soda or snacks go a long ways toward making employees feel valued for their contributions.

Furthermore, now more than ever, communication is paramount.

“(Employers) need to sit down with their top performers and talk to them about what they can do,” Essman said. “They need to spend time with their ‘A’ employees and re-recruit them, if you will. They are not the squeaky wheels; they’re in at 8 a.m. and they work hard. Rather than go to their employer and say what they need — they will look for another job.”

Employers who don’t work to retain their best will soon discover the cost of neglecting that job.

“You (can) develop a reputation for not retaining employees. In this small community, you still hear word on the street,” Essman said.

Word-of-mouth can be a powerful force on both sides of the job market — for those hiring or looking.

“Good people in your organization are always at risk of leaving — especially in a community like Colorado Springs that’s pretty close-knit. People know who’s good in (local) organizations,” Koy said. “So they’ll just call somebody and say ‘Do you want to come over here?’”