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4 employees you can't risk losing now

Can’t bear reading another story on catastrophic effects of the recession? Recent findings not only offer a glimpse of a light at end of the tunnel, they may offer guidance on how to get there.

The last quarter of 2008 saw an extraordinary number of jobs lost, with over 524,000 jobs lost in December alone.

In fact, employers cut employee hours — a combination of layoffs,  overtime reduction, production shifts, etc. — at a 7.7% annual rate during the last three months of 2008. That’s according to a study by Macroeconomic Advisers, LLC. The study claims it’s the largest contraction in hours since 1975.

So, just how is that good news?

It may not be time to claim the glass is half full, but here’s the glimmer of hope: Experts believe that the employers that had to cutback on jobs and working hours will actually end up increasing business productivity.

While there are no figures yet, experts remain confident the government’s productivity growth estimate, which comes out in early February, will support this.

Usually, strong productivity boosts profits and eventually wages. Of course, the current economic situation is far from typical.

But these findings reinforce the idea that companies can meet goals despite layoffs and other problems by making sure they retain the right employees — and that they do everything in their power to manage these employees the right way.

For all companies, especially those forced to make cuts, here are the employee-types that have the ability to produce and excel even through dark times:

The potential high achievers. These are the finance staffers that not only work hard but also have their eyes on the future. Look for employees that you can see climbing a few levels in a relatively short time span, and then find a way to keep ’em.

The naturals. Like the name suggests, these are your All-Stars. These workers just naturally possess the greatest aptitude, skills and knowledge of the job, and their performance is consistently above-average.

Steady performers. These are the rock solid employees who provide consistent results under all conditions. They may not be the top performers or the most talented; however, they are the most reliable. Having a few steady performers on staff is vital to a company’s success.

Future leaders. Here you have the rare staffers that have a little bit of everything. These Finance staffers are driven and have no desire to stay put. They also have a raw talent and knowledge that is complemented by their consistent reliability. Think of that hard-nosed accountant that has CFO written all over him. Needless to say, these employees are worth hanging onto at all costs — even if it means thinking outside the box when it comes rewards and incentives.

Of course, it’s not as simple as identifying these prototypes. It’s up to you to hang on to  them regardless of what your company is going through. Whatever your circumstances, here are tried-and-true tactics to keep your biggest investments coming to work — and performing.

Communicate, communicate, communicate. Amidst layoffs, salary freezes and hourly cutbacks, many companies aren’t as up front with their staffers as they could be. The rationale: They’d rather wait until they a better picture of what the future holds. But keeping employees abreast of everything as soon as you find out will build trust and a sense of camaraderie with your staffers. When it comes to your top performers, try to communicate that excelling during the worst times is an excellent opportunity to build a long-lasting reputation for themselves.
Tip: Hold frequent, informal meetings on company updates, and open the floor for questions or venting.

Solicit honest feedback. An effective, cost-free way to retain your superstars is through active listening. Especially during downturns, try to make it a routine to see what employees are thinking — as well as what their wants and needs are. While some things will be far from feasible, you may be surprised to find that you can actually accommodate some of their requests. Perhaps they are seeking increased responsibility and development, so they can feel more secure. In that case, it’s a win/win for you.

Use creative incentives. Even if you’re not offering bonuses or raises, you may want to consider making exceptions for top performers — even very modest increases go a long way toward retaining these staffers. What about myriad companies that can’t offer even meager raises? Offering perks like non-traditional scheduling options — telecommuting, flex hours, etc. — have been proven to boost retention. If you were on the fence about these options before, now’s probably the best time to try.

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