Don't hide in your office

Retention is a hot topic, despite the cool economy. As we all know, your super staffers may stay put now, but once the economy improves, they could split if they're unfulfilled or unchallenged.

Retaining employees is more art than science, but it certainly can feel like advanced physics or molecular biology if you're having a hard time with it. I recently spoke with Paula Manning, author of "Recruiting & Retaining Employees for Dummies" (co-authored Jennifer Brugh), for her advice on how we can provide proper incentive for your folks to happily remain in your employ:

* Get out of your office. "One thing that's really key is to get out there and really know what's going on with your people," she says. "If the world is crumbling around us we want to sit in our office and shut the door. But it's really important for managers to understand their groups and understand the mental state of their groups."

This is particularly important if your company is having a difficult time or has had layoffs in the past. Those fears do not die quietly, as most of us know. "It's really important for managers not to put their head in the sand," she says.

"Managers need to know what their employees are thinking."

Also, remember that some employees will not come right out and state their fears. Body language, tone of voice and the language they use can give you clues as to their state. These are all clues you cannot discern from an e-mail, which is why you want to visit folks on a regular basis.

* Keep your staff educated on company news. Share as much as you're allowed. Encourage them to attend company meetings or briefings, and if anyone missed one, send out a short summary so they're in the know.

* Don't make hasty judgements. Manning has encountered clients who have a "take it or leave it" position: "Many of them say, 'OK, if this person doesn't want this job or feels this way about something there are 200 people out there who want this job.' A lot of times people are in a situation that's heated so they're not thinking." But when they do stop and think, they realize they'll have to handle all the time, expense and hassle of recruiting, hiring and training a new person, not to mention having someone in-house handle the job responsibilities in the interim. Instead, she encourages managers to think not only a bout the hassle, but also what they're losing in institutional knowledge and the person's importance to their team. "It is an employer's market right now, but you really have to realize how much is involved when you replace a person," she says.

* Evaluate your current situation. "Have a thorough exit interview and find out why people are leaving you and what you can improve on," Manning says. She notes that you can devise all sorts of policies and procedures to "fix" your problems, but if you don't know what the problem really is, you're wasting your time.

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