"This is not a glamorous business," admits Richard Gaspari, president of the Richard Michael Group, a temporary-and permanent-placement firm in Chicago. Turnover in the industry averages more than 40%. So keeping good people, he's decided, means keeping them interested. Gaspari does that with a combination of bonuses and events that holds his turnover down to less than half the industry average.

Gaspari sponsors a few extravaganzas, like an all-expenses-paid trip to the Bahamas for top managers each spring, but he fills out the calendar with more imaginative, less expensive events:

* Guest speakers. Every month Gaspari invites a speaker to address the staff. Not every topic focuses on work-related matters. One guest spoke on crime prevention, a compelling subject for late-night workers.

* Dressing dollars. When the company surpasses monthly productivity goals, an office worker selected at random receives a $300 gift certificate good toward the purchase of a business suit. Gaspari wants people to dress professionally and believes the award delivers that message more tactfully than a dress code would.

* Spontaneous family dinners. Every few months or so Gaspari treats the staff to dinner at a downtown restaurant, no occasion necessary. Spouses and friends are invited. "The husbands and wives get to know one another at these dinners, and that's critical. That's another reason employees aren't going to leave -- they've made friends."

Last year Gaspari spent about $75,000 on those events -- or about 2% of revenues. In five years the company's billings have grown from $268,000 to more than $4 million. "Some people believe in turnover," he says. "But to me, coming to work with the same people and getting to know them and their families is important." -- Michael P. Cronin

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