Employers who thought finding great employees was their biggest staffing need are quickly realizing holding on to them once they have them is of much greater concern, new research shows.

A study by staffing firm Robert Half revealed that nearly 40 percent of chief financial officers consider retaining valuable staff members to be their biggest challenge over the next year, even more so than maintaining employee productivity.

"Though general unemployment levels remain high, professionals with specialized skills have more opportunities available to them, which has led to talent shortages in some areas and made replacing valuable employees even more difficult," said Paul McDonald, Robert Half senior executive director. "Employers will need to pull out all the stops to retain their best and brightest, including ensuring compensation is competitive and top performers know there's a career path available to them with the company."

Robert Half offers employers several tips for retaining their key workers:

  • Maintain an open-door policy: Employees should feel comfortable voicing ideas and concerns. Unhappiness with their boss is one reason many people leave their jobs. Building strong working relationships with amongst the employees should be a priority.
  • Promote from within: Employees will grow discouraged if they feel advancement opportunities aren't available. Managers should meet with staff members to review their career paths and discuss how they can move up in the organization.
  • Provide competitive compensation: While money isn't everything, it is important. Make sure employees' salaries and benefits are at or slightly above the market rates. 
  • Recognize outstanding work: Whether it's a story in the company newsletter or a spot bonus, actions and achievements that warrant special acknowledgment should be rewarded promptly. The recognition doesn't need to be expensive. Saying "thank you" and praising individuals in front of their peers are powerful motivators.
  • Offer professional development opportunities: Training programs help people expand their skills and boost productivity. This will also create versatility amongst the employees.
McDonald also warned against companies relying on counteroffers to avoid losing key players. Instead, he advises hiring managers focus on improving aspects of the work environment that are contributing to the turnover.

"Counteroffers rarely fix the underlying reasons a professional decides to leave the company, such as a lack of challenge or a desire for advancement," McDonald said. "An employee's resignation can be used by the organization as an opportunity to make improvements benefiting its remaining staff."

The study was based on surveys of more than 2,100 chief financial officers from a random sample of companies in more than 20 of the largest U.S. markets.

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