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Don't Let Top Talent Get Away

Dissatisfaction may be on the rise among your best performers, according to research from the Corporate Executive Board. You can get them to stay–if you pay.

by Patricia O'Connell
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Dissatisfaction may be on the rise among your best performers, according to research from the Corporate Executive Board. You can get them to stay—if you pay

Managers searching for signs of employee angst should look up the ladder instead of down. Employee engagement is falling faster among top executives than any other group, according to research from the Corporate Executive Board (CEB).

Only 13% of senior executives at the vice-presidential level or higher say they are "willing to go above and beyond what is expected of them" - a decline from 29% two years ago. In the December survey of the CEB's 79,000 member employees worldwide at 123 organizations, 20% of all respondents said they were disengaged, vs. 10% two years ago. (Employees are classified as either engaged, neutral, or disengaged.)

"Most companies think that in the downturn employees, especially senior leaders, are just grateful to have a job," says Jean Martin, executive director of the CEB's Corporate Leadership Council. In fact, valued players are increasingly likely to be looking around. Among high-potential employees (identified as such by their employers) one out of four plans on quitting in the next 12 months. The best way to motivate the top group? Money.

CEB says compensation-based incentives are three times as likely to improve engagement among senior executives as among the workforce as a whole. To keep high-potential employees from defecting, companies should be investing in rewarding them and have a rigorous performance-management process in place to ensure a genuine meritocracy, says the CEB.