Deterring employees from jumping ship is huge task


Retaining staff in an increasingly competitive labour market has become a bigger issue than actually finding them, according to personnel managers and recruitment consultants.

"I think the buoyancy in the marketplace leads to a lot of difficulties in terms of attrition and retaining staff," says Mr Adrian McGennis, Marlborough Group managing director. "A lot of it is about perception. There are so many jobs in the newspapers, so many ads on the radio or television that people will naturally say `well, maybe there are other opportunities for me on the outside'."

Although staff retention has always been an issue, the high cost and difficulty of replacing employees who leave has brought it into sharper focus.

A recent study by the UCD Marketing Development Programme into the recruitment needs of companies in the high-demand sectors of pharmaceuticals, engineering, IT, financial services and construction, showed that perks, in-company training and internal promotion policies were the most popular retention strategies.

However, no single measure is likely to minimise staff turnover - given the increasing diversity of the workforce and the need to attract more women back into the workplace.

"Companies have got to be creative," says Mr McGennis. "Companies that have the least attrition are those that have an environment where people enjoy working." Indeed, at a time when more people are complaining about longer working hours, companies are being urged to strike a better work/life balance, including the implementation of family friendly policies. Such policies could include flexible working, working from home, job sharing and the provision of workplace creches.

Training and career development are also critical issues. "People aren't looking for jobs anymore," says Mr Graham Lambert, general manager of the Grafton Group. "Everyone who is anyone is looking for a career. They need to know where they can get to within the company, what sort of skills they can develop within the company."

A survey on staff turnover by the Grafton Group, which polled 25 blue-chip companies and 25 small and medium-sized enterprises, found that call centres have particularly high staff turnover levels. This was because staff found it difficult to see a clearly defined career path. However, even if progressive policies are in place, it can still be difficult to prevent many employees, particularly younger ones, from jumping ship.

Mr John Flood, managing director of Parc Technology Resources, says some young professionals are motivated only to make money. "Years ago, you wouldn't have thought of moving from a company unless you had five years' experience. Nowadays they move after five months and would literally move down the road for an extra grand or two. There's nothing you can do to stop them."

Many will also take advantage of outside offers from other companies to get their bosses to agree to a pay rise. Mr Flood also said there are still situations where staff working side-by-side and doing the same job are on different salaries, by virtue of one having joined more recently and having been in the position to negotiate terms.

For people with a few years' experience under their belt and who are in key positions, it is more important that their needs and demands are accurately identified, and to offer financial perks such as profit sharing and share options, says Mr Flood.

Mr Lambert says employee benefits packages have taken on greater value since the changes to PRSI in the last Budget: "Obviously I would like to get to a point in terms of earned income in order to deal with the general cost of living, but there will come a point when it will be of more interest to me if someone offered life insurance, pension, health insurance etc - things that would take the pressure off earned income and not have to pay 12 per cent PRSI on these benefits."