Companies Ready to Unfreeze Salaries; Retention Worries Increase

Picture 3A new study from Watson Wyatt has pretty good news for employees who miss their old salaries and 401(k) matches, and shows that employers are just as worried about keeping people as they were before everything went all haywire on us.

Let’s start with retention. Take the percentage of surveyed employers (26%) who now say they are “significantly more concerned” about retention of key employees than they were before the economic crisis hit and the percentage (39%) who are “slightly more concerned” — add them together, and you find that almost two-thirds are more concerned about top-talent retention than before.

On to salaries, benefits, hours, layoffs, and hours.

Salaries: Now, 54% of the companies that have made salary freezes are planning to restore them over the next six months, according to the Watson Wyatt survey of 201 large U.S. employers. That’s a big-time improvement. In August, 33 percent said they were going to unfreeze salaries. In June, 17 percent said they would.

Meanwhile, almost half of companies plan to reverse hiring freezes in the next six months.

Benefits: According to the survey, “of those reversing reductions to 401(k) matches, 70% will restore the match to its previous level.” Many of those reversals are planned for some time over the next year. On the other hand, the benefits news for employees is bad when it comes to healthcare. Watson Wyatt says that of the companies that have increased employees’ contributions to healthcare premiums, two out of three say those increases are here to stay.

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Layoffs: More than one in five companies think they’re going to do layoffs during the rest of 2009 and 2010. At least that’s better than in April, when almost 50 percent said they were planning layoffs.

Worker hours: More than 80 percent of employers that instituted a reduced workweek expect to reinstate full weeks in the next 12 months. Most of those plan to bring back the hours over the next six months.