And according to Chicago Tribune columnist Carol Kleiman, that means keeping morale high.
"We thought this new focus was going to happen before it did, because at the beginning of the year, we saw the economic turndown coming - yet it was the events of Sept. 11 that finally accelerated the shift," employee assistance provider Richard Chaifetz told Kleiman.
"Retention is important, but as earnings begin tumbling it becomes secondary," said Chaifetz, chairman and CEO of ComPsych Corp. "When that happens, eventually people get laid off and companies focus on keeping the spirits of current employees high - because they're not hiring and expect more of their staffs."
Employees, worried about what's happening in the world outside of work, also may be fearful they'll be the next to lose their jobs, according to Chaifetz.
"They're preoccupied, and in many cases, performance has dropped," he told Kleiman. "Calls from employees to counselors at our 800 number have gone way up." He noted that in the seven-day period following Sept. 11, his company received 30,000 calls from employees, supervisors and managers.
Motivation and productivity are connected with morale, Chaifetz pointed out. "Without it, performance and profits are reduced."
As an example of what some companies do, Kleiman points to CCC Technologies Inc., a telecommunications provider based in Elk Grove Village, Ill. Once a month, the 56 employees there get a chance to participate in an organized event that lifts their spirits and improves morale.
So far, they've gone to sporting events, marched in a parade, cooked a four-course meal at a restaurant, played Whirly Ball and bowled in a company tournament.
"It's fun to do things that are not directly related to work, especially because things can get pretty stressful in our business," said John Jordan, vice president of operations for CCC Technologies. "It brings the staff closer together and is a tremendous boost to morale. People come back from these events with a smile on their face. I know I myself feel energized."
Jordan and Jim Poull, the company's vice president of sales and marketing, had decided to introduce the outings not just for fun but also to attract quality personnel.
"But since Sept. 11," Jordan observed, "the economy has slowed up, and while we're always looking for good people, it's more important to keep the quality people we have."
"We take pictures of the events, set them up in our lunchroom and have a good laugh about them for quite a while."
h the recruiting frenzy of the last few years giving way to layoffs, managers now talk about getting the most out of the employees they have.