As Economy Improves, Businesses Scramble to Retain Talent

(Detroit Free Press/MCT) —

As the economy picks up, companies are hiring again and putting a priority on keeping the workers they have, a recent survey finds.

That’s good news if you are looking for a job – or hoping to get more out of the one you have.

“The attitude has gone from telling employees, ‘Be thankful you have a job,’ to companies asking, ‘How do you hold on to the valuable talent you have?’ ” said Sal Vittolino, a spokesman for global consulting firm OI Partners-Action Management, which conducted the survey. “The name of the game is retention.”

Of the 154 companies surveyed in May, 58 percent reported they added or plan to add workers this year. Just 8 percent expect to cut staff.

At the same time, a third of all employees plan to look for new jobs this year, according to a study by Harris Interactive.

To hold on to good workers – some of whom have been waiting for years for the chance to change jobs – companies of all sizes are offering employees better compensation and benefits, more flexible hours, tuition reimbursement and even handwritten notes of encouragement.

One of the most popular incentives offered to retain and recruit workers is career coaching and development, which to some employees is worth even more than money.

Some companies are offering compensation increases of 10 percent to 25 percent, said Anup Popat, CEO of Systems Technology Group in Troy, Mich., which is working to retain employees and recruit talent.

Companies weigh the cost of keeping a worker with the cost of losing one, which, according to a report by the Society for Human Resource Management, can be twice the employee’s salary.

At MIPRO, a Milford, Mich. software consulting firm, vice president Larry Zagata said he and other executives often thank consultants with personal notes of appreciation, and sometimes even gift cards with which they can take their spouses to dinner.

“The cost of turnover in our industry is very high,” Zagata said. “You’ve got to do the little things.”

For workers, the improving economy and new hiring gives them the confidence and the opportunities they need to change jobs or seek a new position within a company.

Ed Lucas, who sought career advancement, a better schedule and a less-stressful workplace, said he left his job as a junior underwriter at JPMorgan Chase in Troy three months ago to become an assistant underwriter at Michigan Mutual in Southfield, Mich., a much smaller, but rapidly growing, mortgage lender.

During his interview, he saw a manager taking extra time to help a subordinate, an act that helped persuade him to make the change, he said.

“I was willing to take less to be a part of the company,” said Lucas, 35, who has worked in financial services for 18 years and acknowledged the switch made him uneasy at first. “I was at a crossroads. I just wanted to be a part of a team that wanted to expand.”

At the same time, other mortgage lenders are trying to recruit from Michigan Mutual.

“Our people are getting called, and a measure of how we’re doing is: Do they leave?” said Hale Walker, Michigan Mutual’s senior vice president and co-founder. “People typically don’t quit a company, they quit a boss – or manager.”

Ari Kresch, CEO at 1-800-LAW-FIRM in Southfield, said employees “stay at places where they are happy.”

To help keep his lawyers content, he built an indoor office track. They use it to stay fit – and hold what he called walking conferences.

These days, the job market is so competitive that even the experts who advise executives are having to offer more to keep employees.

Charlie Fleetham, president of the small management consulting firm Project Innovations in Farmington Hills, Mich., said he recently granted an employee tuition reimbursement of about $1,200.

It was a small price to pay, he said, considering what it might cost to replace that person later.

Steve Barone, CEO of information technology company Creative Breakthroughs in Troy, said the business tries to create a culture in which workers feel valued, get along and have fun. A few days ago, the employees decided to take a break and went to an amusement park to ride roller coasters.

Barone stressed that it’s important to hire workers at competitive pay and benefits, and that helps to keep them from leaving later.

“It’s deflating if you lose somebody because you thought you could save a dollar or two on them. So we don’t do that,” he said. “We treat them well when things are bad and good – and their career development is thought out and on track.”


Strategies for Keeping Employees

  • Hire the right people. In some cases, turnover occurs when the company and the employee simply don’t match. A rigorous hiring process can help prevent a bad fit.
  • Start with competitive compensation. Workers have fewer reasons to look around when they feel they are paid fairly. Also, regular reviews of the compensation and benefits can help pay remain competitive.
  • Provide career coaching and development. Employees are often motivated by knowing they have a clear career path and know how they can reach the destination.

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