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Published: Tuesday, 9/7/2010

Raises not only way to reward workers

MARKETWATCH

WASHINGTON — You've managed to keep your job during the recession and labor cutbacks. But you may have been working longer and harder with no extra pay or maybe a pay cut.

As the economy slowly recovers, however, some companies are looking to better compensate their workers. For employees at companies that are strapped for funds, experts say these workers can request rewards that won't necessarily show up on a paycheck.

“Smart companies are recognizing that we are not where we were in 2009,” when jobs were being shed left and right, John Challenger, chief executive of outplacement consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, said. Some firms are starting to hire. So companies “are looking more to understand who their best performers are, and how to keep them,” he said.

Companies project merit increases of 2.7 percent for 2011, compared with 2.3 percent for 2010, and 1.6 percent in 2009, according to a survey of 1,046 U.S. companies conducted in April, May, and June by New York-based professional-services firm Towers Watson.

Workers with below-average performance ratings will receive a median merit raise of 1.4 percent; those with an average rating will receive an raise of 2.6 percent, and those with the best rating will receive a 4.3 percent raise, according to the survey.

“Pivotal employee groups are in a stronger negotiating position,” Laura Sejen, global head of pay consulting at Towers Watson, said.

Here are some options:

wFlexible schedules: Flextime — allowing individuals to alter their working hours — can be an attractive reward for hard-working employees, experts said.

“It might be that someone says, ‘I want to go home at 3:00 to be with my kids,'” Mr. Challenger said. “A lot of times, these kinds of arrangements can get individualized. Maybe it's coming in a little bit later or working at home on Fridays.”

Companies can consider allowing workers to compress their work week, for example, working 10 hours a day, four days a week, instead of eight hours each day, five days a week.

wNew job skills and responsibilities: Employers can teach workers new skills to reward them. “Increase [workers'] skills set with the hope that at some time in the future, if the opportunity presents itself, they will be qualified for higher-paying jobs,” said Milton Perkins, senior director of work-force consulting solutions for Agile 1, a work force management organization.

While expanding employees' job functions isn't a guarantee of a pay increase, Mr. Perkins said, giving them more varied work can help to keep them interested, perhaps even more so than just a salary bump.

wCareer development and tuition reimbursement: Another option is getting employers to pay for courses, seminars, and conferences, or membership to professional groups, experts said.

“There's an investment for the company, but also the employee gets something out of it,” said Bob Cartwright, chief executive and founder of Intelligent Compensation, a compensation and human-resources consulting firm near Austin.

Workers can ask to attend classes to help them develop skills, and those who are highly productive even can inquire about receiving a higher reimbursement rate, experts said

Companies gain better-trained employees, while workers widen their skills. “There is a whole range of benefits that companies might be willing to offer, win-win benefits where it seems like an investment,” Mr. Challenger said.

wSmall gestures: Firms should make small moves such as rewarding top performers with a dinner, Mr. Cartwright said. Bosses at retailers can offer bigger employee discounts.

“It isn't cash, but it provides [employees] with the opportunity to have more goods or services,” he said. “People are going to think twice about walking across the street to make another 25 cents an hour when they know they are working in a great environment.”



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