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July 25, 2001
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June, as other businesses looked for ways to cut expenses, the Chicago-area company Intrinsic Technologies invited its 55 employees and their significant others on a four-day trip to the Bahamas.

Everyone vacationed at the Atlantis resort on Paradise Island, a trip estimated to cost in the six figures, not counting lost billable hours. But Mike Gersten, a partner in the information technology firm, tells the Chicago Tribune that it was worth every penny.

"We've been profitable since Day 1, and still are, and our most important asset is talented people," Gersten says.

"The reality is that the investment in attracting and retaining top talent is one of the most important investments you can make," he tells the newspaper. "In fact, we'll probably re-up our benefits and continue to do things like the Bahamas trip. Our people work very hard and we can't cut back on them. The second we do that, we lose."

The executive urges management "not to be shortsighted. The people you lose today are going to cost you twice as much to attract and retain five years from now."

The Tribune points to a Hewitt Associates survey from last year that shows most employers did not intend to scale back or reverse work/life benefits. But even then, changes were in the air.

"Instead of investing $3 million to build a new child-care center, for instance, employers might explore [less expensive] slots at local child-care centers," says JoAnne Laffey, a Hewitt representative.

And adding some family-friendly programs, such as referral and concierge services, may be on hold, according to Mary Ellen Gornick, president of the CPA Group Inc., a national work/life consulting firm based in Chicago.

"Companies are not getting rid of anything they already have, but they're not adding many new programs," says Gornick.

She observes that "employers are not cutting down on people with flexible work schedules. Employees in those positions are productive."

But in an unpredictable economy, benefits aren't the only factors involved in having a life outside of the office, according to Kurt Sandholtz, vice president of product development at BT.Novations, a national human resources consulting firm based in Provo, Utah.

"Even though employers aren't going to take away anything," says Sandholtz, who designs the firm's career development workshops and training programs, "employees still see the economy tightening and they get the message. They see the handwriting on the wall."

He suggests that many employees, on their own, will be so afraid of losing their jobs that they won't risk asking for flexibility, shorter hours, or telecommuting.

"When employees are expected to do more with less, to hunker down and work harder, the company is fostering a bunker mentality that can have a harmful impact on an organization after the economic slowdown has run its course," he warns.

To view the Chicago Tribune story, click here.
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