Last week , I wrote about people's expectations for this year's holiday bonuses. Needless to say, those checks will not be as plump as in years past. But that's not to say managers aren't or shouldn't be trying to reward their employees in one way or another.

After all, hiring workers to replace the ones who leave can be costly and time-consuming. And if good employees are not rewarded now for their work, they will be the first to go as the economy recovers.

With that in mind, some managers are looking for ways to retain those who haven't been laid off, or who have started to look at other opportunities (and yes, there still are some out there).

Sure, there are a lot of employees who will receive neither moolah nor even a nice gesture, like an afternoon off, but there are some crack companies and managers who are starting to recognize that soft benefits might blunt the disappointment at bonus time, and serve to keep employees happy during the rest of the year as well.

Kimberly Wilson, 26, is married with no children. When her father passed away, leaving her mother in need of more help and care, her employer, SouthTrust Bank, based in Birmingham, Ala., offered her a flexible schedule at her job in the Jacksonville, Fla., office so she could spend mornings with her mother.

Wilson and her manager tried several schedules until they found one that worked: a long day on Monday, and then Tuesday through Friday from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m.

"I'll be quite frank. It keeps me here," said Wilson, who admits there are competitively priced jobs available to her outside of the bank. She has something of a newfound loyalty to the people who have opened ways for her to have a life outside of work. She said that because of that, she is sticking it out, even if that means forgoing better pay. "There's always competition, and I think with any job you have to weigh every perk involved in the job," she said. "When I was younger, I left jobs for a little more money and regretted it."

There are surprisingly many companies and managers out there that realize they don't have much to offer as far as salary increases when an employee gets a job offer elsewhere, or decides to start looking. This is nothing new.

Many companies during the late 1990s felt they had to cling to employees so they wouldn't leave for dot-com offers with huge stock options. Offices began to offer the works -- free concierge services, the cliched foosball table, bring-your-dog-to-work days -- to win over their employees.

Now, it takes more serious perks to keep employees interested in staying.

SouthTrust, for instance, began to offer soft benefits, and pay more attention to what employees wanted, about 21/2 years ago, after it realized it had a major problem with high turnover. Large call centers were moving to the area, often offering employees higher pay and benefits.

Belinda Yutesler, senior vice president and branch administrator in Jacksonville, recognized this and asked for permission to try some new things with her employees. She was given the go-ahead. So she and other managers began to ask them: What's going to keep you here?

Employees mostly answered that they wanted more training opportunities, help with their careers, introductions to connections within the organization and more flexible work schedules.

Before asking employees what they wanted, and implementing new practices, the bank had a 50 percent turnover rate overall in its Jacksonville branches. Now that rate is about 20 percent.

"We wanted them to help us find the solutions," said Yutesler. "The salary sometimes is higher in those positions where we had the high turnover. We couldn't pay them higher, but we wanted them to see the value of staying with us."

Beverly Kaye, coauthor of "Love 'Em or Lose 'Em: Getting Good People to Stay" and chief executive of Scranton, Pa.-based Career Systems International, said managers need to pay attention to retention now. Because the job market is slow, some managers may believe they are safe from high turnover, but that is not the case. "Anybody who is unhappy now, who is not treated well . . . is going to be watching the job boards," she said. "When the economy softens, they are the ones who are going to go."

Among other things, Kaye has created a coupon book for managers to hand to employees. For instance: "Redeem this coupon for a chance to ask me, without fear, to change one or more of my jerk-like behaviors. I promise to listen, apologize, and then really try to change."

Last week, one company ordered about 1,000 coupon books. Whether the coupons actually work will be up to the managers.

Although many of us could really use extra pay for work well done, the reality is it just might not be feasible right now. But that's not to say some smart companies and with-it managers aren't trying to find creative substitutes.

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