Make Employees a Non-Monetary Offer They Can't Refuse

By Sylvia Ann Hewlett Jan 5, 2010
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High salaries and hefty bonuses aren’t what keep high-performing employees devoted to their jobs, even in a dismal work environment. What you must give them is something they can’t put a value on. Managers must turn to sustainable alternatives that truly satisfy employees’ needs and wants.

Below are three levers of real value. The cost of investment: minimal. The payoff: inestimable.

Formalize flexibility. Remote work options, staggered hours, reduced schedules and mini-sabbaticals are often seen as luxurious perks for the fat years and the first targets of corporate belt-tightening. But leaders who treat time as currency have tapped into one secret to surviving a recession. One of flextime’s longtime conundrums has been that it is, well, too flexible, doled out as a favor on a case-by-case basis or perceived as an entitlement. Employers such as Sodexo, Best Buy and Gap Outlet allow all employees to propose their own flexible work programs and measure the results. Putting the burden on employees to manage their flextime frees managers from over-managing these arrangements.

Keep career development. Our research shows that stimulating and challenging assignments—not compensation—represent the No.1 reason talented people love their jobs.

Tough times offer opportunities for career development. When teams are operating with skeleton staffs, everyone must pitch in. A team leader can use straitened circumstances to help strong performers gain stretch assignments or cross-functional roles that boost skills and expand professional networks of colleagues.

Re-create pride and purpose. Workers want to feel good about their companies. That’s why the cornerstone of any company’s comeback plan is to refresh and reinvigorate employees’ minds and souls.

Find the good and flaunt it by amping up corporate altruism. Our research finds that high-potential women, as well as a significant percentage of men, are motivated by a desire to give back to the world, and they seek employers that allow them to do so on company time. Even volunteer activities that require little time commitment can offer a huge psychic payback.

By revising rewards, smart managers can turn the recession into a talent incubator. Don’t lose this opportunity to make a foolproof investment in retaining your top talent.

The author is an economist, author and founder of the Center for Work-Life Policy in New York City. She directs the Gender and Policy Program at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

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