National employment figures may be rather stagnant — annoyingly so, if you’d like to see some improvement in the economy — but the market for top-level talent appears to be loosening considerably. There are loads of signs, including a recent survey by The Corporate Executive Board that found 25% of high-potential employees intend to leave their current employer within a year.

Here is the latest piece of evidence: in a May survey of 113 human-resources executives by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, 49% said they are always concerned about other companies poaching their best workers, even in a recession. But an additional 42% said they’ve been growing more concerned about it lately.

Employee perks

A popular counterbalancing strategy is restoring perks cut during the recent dark years. Among the 39% of survey respondents whose company reduced or eliminated perks, 41% and 18%, respectively, have partially or completely restored them, and 24% have introduced new perks.

That doesn’t mean all you have to do is start handing out free stuff and no one will leave. “A company can’t make up for mistreating employees with a free gym membership,” says John Challenger, CEO of the outplacement firm. “But in companies where perks are an extension of a corporate culture that views its workers as partners or team members and not cogs in the machinery, employees are more likely to feel valued, engaged, and happy.”

Not surprisingly, perks that involve cash are the most desired (see chart), but Challenger points out that many low-cost or no-cost benefits may appeal to employees as well, such as flexible schedules, telecommuting, casual attire, early dismissal on summer Fridays, and even pet-friendly offices.

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