A combination of low unemployment and a large number of job openings has put leverage into workers' hands. People have the ability to switch jobs in order to make more money or get perks that their current position does not offer, and that has employers a bit worried.

Over eight in 10 (81%) employers are worried about holding on to top talent, according to a new survey from Robert Half, a global staffing firm. A third of the employers surveyed (33%) said they are "very concerned," which makes sense because a separate survey conducted by the same company showed that 43% of professionals plan to look for a new job at some point over the next year.

A person uses a laptop to search for a job.

A large percentage of workers are looking for a job. Image source: Getty Images.

What would keep people at their jobs?

In some ways, employees are testing the waters because they can. The strong job market creates a grass-is-greener scenario where making a move -- even a lateral one -- can result in better pay and perks.

Pay and perks are both clearly in high demand, but they aren't the only reasons survey respondents named when asked about what was needed to keep them in their current job. Higher pay was the top reason at 43%, while more time off or better benefits was cited by 20%, but 18% said "a promotion" was needed. About 10% said that nothing could get them to stay at their current job, and 8% said they would stay if they could get a new boss.

The results above don't really match the things employers said they were doing to retain workers. They named "increasing communication" (46%) as the top answer, while "improving employee recognition programs" and "offering professional development" each scored 41%. Increasing compensation and benefits did get named by 40% of respondents, while "providing reimbursement for ongoing education" came in at 33%, followed by "facilitating mentorship programs (26%) and "working with interim staff to prevent full-time employees from becoming burned out (24%)." Only 8% said their company wasn't doing anything to facilitate retention.

"In a tight employment market, workers have more options, and the grass may look greener somewhere else," said Robert Half Executive Director Paul McDonald in a press release. "Employers can help prevent turnover by learning what motivates their most valued employees and customizing their retention strategies. While money is an important motivator, benefits or growth opportunities are also strong enticements."

It helps to talk

Some defections are inevitable, but others are preventable. Both the company and the employee have to be willing to make an effort to open a dialogue so someone does not leave a job for reasons that the company would have been willing to correct.

It's not easy for workers to ask for raises, better benefits, and other perks. Employers are often hesitant to raise these issues because it's the company starting a discussion that could end in it having to spend more money.

Keeping good workers, even at a higher cost, might be cheaper than replacing them, especially given overall worker shortages in many areas. If that can be done largely by talking with your employees to map out their path to the things they want, then it makes sense to do that. It's probably equally important to know if there's a fundamental disagreement over value/compensation that will eventually cause someone to leave.

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