Employers Consider New Enticements to Attract Workers

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As the economy gradually improves, workers are starting to look around for better career opportunities, leading employers to plan new ways to attract and keep talent.

"I think some employers are looking at a mass exodus," said Robert Morgan, president for employment solutions at Spherion, an international recruiting and outsourcing firm based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The New York Times reported that a Spherion survey of 3,000 workers last year indicated that 51 percent wanted to leave their jobs, and 75 percent of that group said they were likely to leave within a year. In 1997, Morgan said, only 25 percent of the respondents expressed a desire to move on.

Joyce Gioia, president of the Herman Group, a management consulting firm in Greensboro, N.C., said that based on the Spherion study and others like it, she believes workers who survived layoffs during the economic downtown may leave as soon as they see signs of recovery. Many of those employees felt taken for granted since they worked harder but received few rewards.

Executives are saying that for the first time in several years, job candidates mention offers from other companies in their interviews. To attract and keep top talent, companies are looking at flexible schedules, career planning assistance and telecommuting options, not the free massages and similar perks offered in the 1990s.

Accounting firm Ernst & Young is offering extra time off around holidays this year, said Kevin Kelly, head of the firm's United States and Latin America human resources departments. Employees received a day off on the Friday before Martin Luther King's Birthday, and will also get extended time before Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.

Nationwide, the insurance and financial services company, introduced a career-planning website last year and by the end of 2004, the company plans to add classes and seminars on personal finance issues and 401(k) investments. Other plans include setting up an employee "paid time-off bank," which lets workers save all their paid leave and then use it as they choose.

Richard Smucker, president and co-chief executive of the J. M. Smucker Company, the maker of jams and preserves, said its retention strategy had not varied greatly over the years.

"We do try to rotate jobs and offer people challenges," he told the New York Times. "We're constantly retooling our training program and trying new tactics. If our business is running well, then we don't have to put a lot of time into a retention program. That will take care of itself."

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