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Companies put in effort to keep workers

Jeff Tyler Apr 6, 2009

Companies put in effort to keep workers

Jeff Tyler Apr 6, 2009

CORRECTION: This story misstates the salary range for first-year associates at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. Starting pay is $140,000 to $160,000, depending on the city.


Kai Ryssdal: With unemployment rising and good jobs getting harder to find, let alone the bonuses Dan Ariely was just telling us about, you’d think employers would have the advantage in this economy. Because really where can a lot of those laid-off workers go? Despite the recession though, or maybe because of it, there’s still plenty of poaching going on — Companies trying to lure top performers away from other companies. Which means everyone’s looking for new ways to hold on to the workers they do have. Marketplace’s Jeff Tyler starts our story someplace you’d think poaching wouldn’t be a problem.

JEFF TYLER: Employees play volleyball at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California. They’re not goofing off. They’re “innovating.” They can think big thoughts while shooting pool, working out with a personal trainer, or eating free food at one of Google’s restaurants.

Google’s campus is designed so employees never need to leave. In fact, keeping them has become something of a science.

LASZLO Bock: I can’t share too much at this point. But one of the things we’re trying to understand is what makes people leave.

That’s Laszlo Bock, who heads what Google calls “people operations.”

Bock: It’s like human resources but with math.

Google’s mathematicians, statisticians and psychologists are now trying to anticipate what workers want before they know themselves.

Bock: What are the factors that cause people to think about leaving, even if it’s subconsciously, before they make the decision to leave.

Bock says it depends on the employee: do they want security, recognition, a sense of community?

Bock: What most companies do is they try to give everyone the same thing. And what we’re trying to do is figure out, for different folks, what matters to them and deliver that to them.

It doesn’t always work. Several top employees have left Google recently. Now that the company has grown to 20,000 workers, it’s part of the corporate establishment. And entrepreneurial-types — hoping to cash-in at a start-up — are leaving to find the next Google.

Holding on to talent isn’t just an issue for the tech industry. It’s a growing challenge for banks. Especially if they’ve received government bailout money. With the backlash against bonuses, financial firms in the process of merging have been forced to get more creative to hold on to good people.

Bill Willis is a financial headhunter with Willis Consulting. He says, when Wells Fargo acquired banking giant Wachovia, it offered some executives incentives tied to performance.

BILL Willis: But it’s not that hard, fast cash bonus that usually accompanies a merger.

When Morgan Stanley recently merged with Smith Barney, Willis says employees did get retention bonuses, they were just postponed.

Willis: That bonus will be paid versus future earnings, hopefully to avoid the controversy of using TARP money.

Without financial incentives, he says, some firms are at a competitive disadvantage. Law firms hoping to preserve their competitive advantage are trying to keep some employees who haven’t even started yet. Several big law firms have delayed the start dates for new associates by a year. A few firms are paying them cash bonuses to wait. Others are taking a different approach.

First-year associates at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius typically make about $135,000 a year. Instead, new hires will get $5,000 a month to volunteer with legal aid. Partner Eric Kraeutler explains why.

ERIC Kraeutler: We’ve invested a lot in this group of law students. Most of them spent a summer working with us. They’re extremely talented individuals, and we want to maintain our tie with them.

Legal-aid groups get volunteers. The lawyers get experience. That way, Kraeutler says, the firm still has a staff on standby.

Kraeutler: Our hope is, that by the time their start date arrives, that we’ll be in the midst of a recovery.

And that no one will have hired their associates away.

I’m Jeff Tyler for Marketplace.

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