Companies Concerned About Retention

With the economy slowly recovering, a new survey of human resources executives reveals that employers are increasingly concerned about losing their top talent to other companies.  As a result, many employers are bringing back some of the perks that were cut during the recession and others are introducing new ones to attract and retain the best workers.

In the survey conducted by global outplacement and executive coaching consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., 42 percent of respondents said they were growing more concerned about other companies poaching top talent, as the economy improves.  Meanwhile, nearly 49 percent of respondents said the poaching of talent is always a concern, even in a recession.

“Even in a downturn with widespread layoffs, companies still need talent.  In fact, this may be the most important time for employers to hold on tight to their highest skilled workers.  However, as the economy improves, companies could be worried not only about other employers poaching their best workers, but also about their top talent actively seeking new opportunities,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Such an exodus may be just over the horizon.  A recent survey by MetLife found that nearly 40 percent of all employees hope to work for a different employer in the next 12 months.  Another study, this one from the Corporate Leadership Council, found that 25 percent of high-potential employees (a.k.a. top performers) intend to leave their current employer within the year.

In order to hang on to their talent, more and more companies are reinstating perks that were cut or eliminated because of the economic downturn that began in late 2007.  According to the Challenger survey, 39 percent of respondents said their companies were forced to reduce or eliminate perks during the recession. 

With the economy starting to spring back, about 18 percent of those polled said their companies have been able to restore all pre-recession perks.  Another 41 percent have brought back some of the perks that were cut or eliminated.  Nearly one quarter (23.5 percent) of those surveyed indicated that they have introduced some entirely new perks. 

“Whether it’s something simple, like free bagels in the lunch room every morning, or something more substantial, such as tuition reimbursement or flexible scheduling, these perks can be an essential part of worker morale and job satisfaction.  Companies that are frequently identified as ‘the best places to work’ typically offer a variety of unique and well-regarded perks,” noted Challenger.

“Nice perks alone are not enough to instill worker loyalty.  In other words, a company can’t make up for mistreating employees with a free gym membership.  But in companies where perks are an extension of a corporate culture that views its workers as partners or team members and not cogs in the machinery, employees are more likely to feel valued, engaged and happy,” he added.

The Challenger survey found that the perk most effective in retaining top talent is the performance-based bonus, selected by nearly 80 percent of respondents.  About 70 percent of respondents said 401(k) with employer contributions was an effective perk.  Other effective perks included vacation/personal time (49 percent); wellness-related benefits (43 percent); flexible schedules (40 percent); and tuition reimbursement (27 percent).

“Cash is still king.  Bonuses are always going to be popular because it conveys to employees that they are an integral part of the team and that their performance directly impacts the bottom line, so when the company does well because of their hard work, they are rewarded with extra money.  But many companies are also finding success with low-cost and no-cost perks,” said Challenger.

Offering employees opportunities to telecommute is one example of a no-cost perk that is popular among workers.  About one in four human resource executives surveyed by Challenger said telecommuting is effective in boosting retention.  And many companies find that it is not only no-cost; it actually results in cost savings, as employers are able to reduce their need for physical space.

“Other amenities, such as casual work attire, early dismissal on Fridays during the summer, and pet-friendly offices are just a few more examples of perks that are extremely popular among workers and, because they add no costs to the bottom line, companies are not forced to cut them in rough times,” said Challenger.

These types of fringe benefits seem to be in line with what employees want.  A 2008 survey by found the most popular benefits outside of monetary compensation are professional development, the ability to work from home, an additional week of vacation and a flexible work schedule.

 It appears that companies are listening.  A January survey of chief financial officers by Robert Half found that 33 percent of companies plan to offer or already offer subsidized training and education.  More than one-quarter (27 percent) will offer flexible work hours/telecommuting.  Another 25 percent will provide mentoring programs.

Flexible scheduling is another example of a low-cost perk that could end up benefitting a company’s bottom line.  Big box retailer Best Buy recently implemented a results-only-work-environment (ROWE) at its corporate headquarters.  The program gives employees much more control over their work schedules by basically saying, “We don’t care when, where or how your work gets done, as long as it gets done and the quality of the work meets expectations.” 

An independent study of the program conducted by a pair of sociology professors found that implementation of ROWE reduced turnover by 45 percent—after controlling for multiple factors like job level, organizational tenure, job satisfaction, income adequacy, job security and other turnover intentions.


As the economy improves, are
you growing more concerned about other companies poaching your top talent?

This is always a concern, even in a down economy


Yes, we are increasingly concerned about talent poaching


No, there is no evidence that
competitors are trying to lure away our talent



Was your company forced to
reduce or eliminate any perks due to the recession?






If forced to reduce/eliminate perks, has your company been
able to restore any of them?

Some of them


We have introduced new perks/benefits


All of them


None of them



Which perks are most effective in retaining your top

(Respondents were able to select multiple answers, so results equal more
than 100%)

Performance bonuses


401K with employer contribution


Vacation/personal time


Flexible schedules


Health/wellness programs


Tuition reimbursement






Onsite childcare or subsidized childcare


Source: Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.©






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