'Extreme' retention tactics

By David Essex, ITworld.com |  Career

With the IT turnover rate averaging 25 percent (see my previous column, href="/Career/1993/ITW2491/"> "Employee
turnover: The costs are staggering"), retention strategies have become a top
priority for consultants, hiring managers, and HR departments. The standard offerings
are now familiar: flextime and liberal family-leave policies; telecommuting options;
career development and training; exit interviews; and maintaining competitive salaries,
bonuses, and other financial incentives.

Since companies' benefits packages are often similar, some companies are looking for
a new competitive advantage, taking employee retention a step or two further with
efforts that are unique, unusual, or on the bleeding edge of personnel practices.

Admittedly, many new retention tricks are designed to attract new employees as well
as keep existing ones. The most interesting perks are usually minor; in fact, they're
sometimes called de minimis (minimal) fringe benefits. But they're useful
because they can build employee loyalty inexpensively and do not have to be reported as
taxable compensation under Internal Revenue Service rules.

Some examples:

  • LapLink.com (formerly Traveling Software) encourages skateboarding at work. One
    visitor reported his surprise at seeing employees rolling down a long hallway in the
    Bothell, Wash., headquarters. Also, the company brags in its recruitment literature
    that it's OK if you're the kind of worker who sometimes climbs the walls -- there's a
    climbing wall in the workout room.
  • Microsoft Corp. (Redmond, Wash.) and numerous others provide free beverages;
    LapLink.com touts its two movie-size popcorn machines and "a latte machine and
    chocolate sauce at every coffee pot!"
  • eBay (San Jose, Calif.) has wacky-slippers-to-work days and bagel Wednesdays.
  • Amazon.com (Seattle), Yahoo (Santa Clara, Calif.), and others have video-game
    breaks.
  • Extricity (Redwood Shores, Calif.) shows Friday afternoon movies.
  • CrossCommerce reimburses employees for maintaining bicycles and scooters they use
    to commute to the company's San Francisco headquarters.
  • Some companies have in-house dry-cleaning services and masseuses, and give away
    lottery tickets.

Several consultants and IT vendors say the hottest new perk seems to be concierge
services. Also available to the general public, these services act like all-purpose
errand boys -- they arrange parties, shop for personal items, and make restaurant
reservations; one even offers to buy, sign, and mail Christmas cards. Corporations can
use concierges to perform tasks that keep employees out of the office, such as waiting
for the cable TV installer to arrive, said Bill Bench, president and founder of
Benchmark HR Solutions (Salem, N.H.), an HR consulting firm.

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