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Stop the Mutiny! Keep Employees From Quitting

Thursday, 10 May 2012 | 9:08 PM ET

With the crush of layoffs during the recession, it was easy to play the old "you're lucky to have a job" card with your employees. Now, as the economy starts to sputter back, you're are going to have to come up with some new material — or you’re going to have a mutiny on your hands.

Jolly Roger Flag
Ian McKinnell | Photographer's Choice | Getty Images
Jolly Roger Flag

The employees left standing have been overworked for several years now, carrying the weight of both their job and the employees that were laid off, leaving the current workforce with a serious case of fatigue.

When times are tough or companies are going through big changes, they rely the most on their top employees. These “recession work-horses” are some of the employees that are most fatigued right now, said Mark Vaughn, a senior partner at Navint Partners , a management-consulting firm that works with a lot of financial firms.

“Every company relies on their top 20 percent,” Vaughn said. “And the best [employees] are always at the most risk of leaving — certainly in good times, but even in bad times like this,” he said. “Some people I’ve talked to have just checked out — they don’t feel like they can be rewarded in the way they should be for the work they do,” he added.

"We have frequently seen high-level employees who are overworked and underpaid becoming disengaged," said Piera Palazzolo, senior vice president of marketing at Dale Carnegie Institute, a corporate-training organization. "Employees who ARE engaged can look beyond their wages, salary and hours and feel a close attachment to the values, ethics and actions embodied by the organization," he said.

Companies are gradually starting to hire again — April was the 19 thstraight months jobs were added to the economy – but few are feeling comfortable enough to start throwing money around for mass hiring or big bonuses for current employees. Just when we start feeling comfortable, another European country falters or gas prices race toward $4 a gallon.

So how do you keep your top employees from jumping ship without putting more money on the table?

“The challenge is for companies to come up with nonmonetary ways of motivating employees that doesn’t impact the bottom line,” Vaughn said.

Blasius Erlinger | The Image Bank | Getty Images

He said one key thing — that doesn’t cost anything — is offering flexible work hours to your best employees who have been working hard through the recession. Maybe that means working later hours, earlier hours — or working from home sometimes.

“I know I love taking my kids to school — it reminds me why I work,” Vaughn said.

You can even go one better and give them more vacation time, Palazzolo added.

Another easy thing is to reimburse them for charitable donations. Chances are, there’s already a line in the company’s budget for charitable donations — why not let your employees decide where that money goes? Plus, getting reimbursed feels like cash in hand — even when it’s not.

Sing their praises!

A little compliment goes a long way. If you increase a top employee’s profile in the company – communicate their achievements to management and have them interact with higher levels of management, it gives them a sense of appreciation that’s likely to foster more loyalty, even if they get offered another job.

Also: just give them the title they want, already! If you give an employee a better title – even without the monetary compensation — it’s going to make them feel more valued.

"Creating incentives such as the 'Team Member of the Month' award will help boost morale and increase employee engagement," Palazzolo said.

Give them more work!

“I know that seems counterintuitive,” Vaughn said. “But give your employees more responsibilities and more autonomy in their day-to-day activity. People tend to prosper in that type of situation.”

Trim the fat!

Top performers the world over will appreciate this one.

“Companies need to continue getting rid of low performers,” Vaughn said. “There’s nothing more demotivating to high performers, or the recession work-horse, than working side-by-side with a low performer,” he said.

“Your best people understand the value of performance. If you demonstrate that the company values performance, it will absolutely help you retain the best employees,” Vaughn said.

Most importantly: find out what they want!

If you offer them a banana and they’re allergic to bananas, that’s a FAIL.

“Do something in the budget that’s important to them. That goes a long way. Build a culture that people want to work in,” Vaughn said.

Vaughn said at Navint, they went with ice cream, putting ice-cream machines on every other floor.

“People absolutely love it!” he said.

Who knew? All it took to keep your employees from raising the jolly roger pirate flag in front of corporate headquarters was ice cream!

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs:

Cindy Perman
Cindy PermanCNBC.com Commentary Editor
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