It may be common sense but it bears repeating anyway. When we talk about talent retention, we're talking about key people and top talent. As we prepare to ring in the New Year, we should bear in mind a few things about our recruitment and retention efforts that might make this time of year both opportunistic and threatening where top talent is concerned.

'Tis the season for resolutions after all. People everywhere will soon be resolving to lose weight, start a fitness program, drink less, or quit smoking. But the number one New Year's resolution last year, according to, was to find a better job. In fact, more of us turn our attention to our working lives at this time of year than at any other time. (Traffic to major job boards typically spikes between 40-60% from December to January each year.) Monster itself agrees that its spike in traffic in January is the biggest all year (including increased traffic after its Superbowl ads) and that this is mostly due to resolutions.

Maybe it's having time off to reflect on the past year that causes so many people to think about improving their working lives. After all, according to Freud, love and work are the cornerstones of our lives. When we reflect, we tend to reflect on those two things more than anything else.

Derrick Barton, founder and CEO of the Center For Talent Retention notes, "Whenever there's a major holiday, Thanksgiving, July 4 or Christmas, you're around family and friends. People ask how work is going. Sometimes people open up beyond the usual one or two word response because they're comfortable talking with a trusted person. This may get them thinking that perhaps they're lucky in their work, or that maybe they need to get out of a bad situation. When that mental 'click' is turned on, there is a strong correlation to actually leaving, particularly among top talent and people with skills that are in demand. Worse, what held them back in 2004 will not as likely hold them back in 2005."

For many, work has become the dominant force in their lives. Numerous employee surveys this year and last revealed an enormous pent up desire for change; some surveys even suggested that more than half of all employees (and managers) plan to leave their employers within the next 12 months or "when the economy improves." If recent economic trends, which indicate a stronger economy and improved labor market, hold, 2005 could be the biggest year so far this decade for job change.

So how might this present an opportunity for recruiters and/or trouble for organizations? For recruiters, the New Year is harvest time. Clever recruiters will have planted seeds of interest into the top talent they hope to recruit from other organizations so that their follow-up calls in January and February connect them to people in the career-change state of mind.

Organizations, on the other hand, should spend some time in December and January cementing their ties with top talent. This involves more than a Christmas card or even a bonus. Employers should use this time of year to show real appreciation for the hard work of key performers during the past year. Of course, retention initiatives should occur year round, but it doesn't hurt to emphasize and increase those efforts at year end and during the first months of the new year, when employers are most vulnerable to losing their best people.

Retention of critical talent is not a one-to-many exercise. Top talent and those that have been identified as having strong potential should be met with one-on-one. Perceptive managers will gain a sense of whether an employee's commitment is strong or waning. At the very least, it will give managers the opportunity to express gratitude and learn what is important to keeping their key people engaged. This time of year has the advantage of being a natural time for taking stock of accomplishments during the past year and looking ahead to goals for the coming year.

However, this won't just happen. Data gathered by the Center For Talent Retention at the start of the decade found that 86% of managers did not feel accountable for engaging and retaining employees. Despite the elevation of "talent retention" as an issue since then, it is very doubtful that the situation has improved much. The surest path to getting managers actively involved in the retention of key people could be to build it directly into their compensation plans. Again, there is no better time to revisit incentive plans than the beginning of a new year.

The New Year is not a time to sit back and reflect. In fact, it may be the best time exploit the vulnerabilities of competitors, after all, all's fair in the war for talent.


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