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Recruiters say that will become even more important as the economy improves.
"Retention will be huge, and companies maybe are not paying attention to that because they're so focused on the bottom line," said Amelya Stevenson, president of the Sacramento Human Resource Association.
"People have been extremely thankful that they've had a job, but now that things are blowing over, employers need to tell their employees -- out loud -- that they are thankful for their service," said Kim Parker, executive vice president of the California Employers Association.
Employees are reading the news and seeing their employers' improving fortunes, said local market researcher Rick Reed. They have survived the downturn with its budget cuts, wage freezes, and layoffs and want to be rewarded for their perseverance.
Employers are starting to hear the message. Average hourly earnings rose by 8 cents in January or $3.20 over a 40-hour workweek, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, while wages have risen by nearly 2 percent over the past year.
Ms. Parker, of the California Employers Association, said she's hearing from employers who are lifting wage freezes, restoring 401(k) retirement matching funds, and resurrecting training programs.
"The doors are opening for training. Employees feel valued when companies invest in professional development," she said.
In an encouraging sign, Ms. Parker said her office is getting more requests for salary surveys as employers try to gauge what wages competitors are paying their workers.
Still, in a volatile job market, employees may be looking for new opportunities, particularly in the information technology sector. Online tech job postings are on the rise, but salaries remain largely flat. Workers are caught in what tech careers Web site Dice.com calls an "infinite loop" of stagnant wages, even as demand for their skills grows.
"Turnover is likely going to increase in 2011. Tech workers are looking for more at this point," said Tom Silver, a Dice.com senior vice president. He said about 40 percent of workers surveyed by Dice.com believe they can make more money if they switch firms in 2011. "People figure they can make more money if they change employers," he said. "There's the belief that if they're willing to take the risk to make a move, they'll make a move."
Retention perks take many forms, and they often go beyond money.
At the small Sacramento insurance firm Rood&Dax, employees can take a quiet moment in a meditation room, can order chair massages, and are rewarded for volunteering in their communities.
Employees' ideas are also put into action on everything from projects and work improvements to the company's wellness program.
"We give employees ownership in the organization. They come up with ideas on how to improve," said Laurie Rood, who, with broker-consultant Gayle Dax-Conroy, heads the firm. "There's nothing worse for an employee than to have a good idea and not have it acknowledged."