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Want to keep top employees? Offer tuition reimbursement. Want to prove yourself as an asset? Ask for tuition reimbursement.

That was part of the results of OI Partners survey, released April 11, which concluded two out of three employers are implementing programs to retain some of their most talented workers.

“Most employers have initiated measures to hang on to their best talent. They realize if retention is a problem with a high unemployment rate, it will only get worse once more jobs become available if they don’t do something to entice employees to remain,” said Steve Ford, chair of OI Partners, a global coaching and leadership development and consulting firm, in the release.

“Companies are most concerned about losing employees who they have designated as their future leaders and those who directly work with customers. Job opportunities have already increased for these levels of workers and competition for the best ones will become more fierce, as well as for those who manage them,” Ford added.

For employees, communication is key to getting help paying for education.

“Employees need to be aware that companies are starting to pay attention to retaining talent,” said Mary Ann Gontin, managing partner with OI Partners-Cunis & Gontin, by phone Monday. “Have a conversation with your boss. Position yourself as interested in growing. Take stretch assignments, and prove yourself as someone they want. Self-advocate.”

Through education, whether a MBA or other master’s level programs, employees can bring new theories and perspectives back to the workplace.

“Education serves to help open our eyes,” said Gontin. “And that’s something you can bring back to co-workers and the organization.”

She added that her clients placed no distinction on whether education was online or on-ground.

“Employers realized there is more openness with online and see it as a fit for the lifestyles of their employees,” said Gontin. “What employers are looking for is an accredited school and the appropriate level of learning.”

Related: Five Online Information Technology MBA Programs | Database: Search, Sort, Compare Online MBA Programs | School Reports: Full Details on MBA Programs | Specialties: Research MBA Concentrations

Employer Worries

Here are employers’ fears, related to losing talented employees, as pointed out in the OI Partners’ survey:

  • 68% of employers have taken steps during the past year to retain top employees. That is because turnover has already increased at 30% of surveyed companies and most are bracing for more employee exits in the coming year.
  • 90% are concerned about losing high-potential employees
  • 72% are worried about departing front-line workers (sales and service employees)
  • 60% are apprehensive about middle managers leaving
  • 45% are uneasy about senior-level executives exiting

The most difficult types of workers to retain are: operations and production (chosen by 30%), sales and marketing (27%), customer service (24%), accounting and finance (22%) and information services (20%).

Best Candidates for Tuition Reimbursement

Of the third of respondents that said tuition reimbursement was a way to retain top talent, traditional options, like formal degrees, need to fit or be relevant to the job.

“One of the biggest changes over the last five to-10 years, is that employers are going to want to see education related to the current position of the employee, or a position they could move into,” said Gontin.

For high-potential workers, 37% of respondents said tuition reimbursement, along with better compensation and benefits (43% of respondents), coaching programs (40%), mentoring programs (38%) were top retention tools. For middle managers, the most popular retention methods were coaching programs (35%), tuition reimbursement (30%), better compensation and benefits (30%), and flexible hours and schedules (24%).

50% of employers said they are selecting front-line workers, or those involved in the daily operations of a company, more carefully as the top retention method. Other popular retention methods are for this group were giving exit interviews (48%), better orientation and training (35%), tuition reimbursement (34%), and better compensation and benefits (26%).

“For employers, the main thing is to have a dialogue with their employees,” said Gontin. “Identify who their high-potential employees are, and let them know you’re willing to invest in tuition reimbursement to help them develop.”

– Alanna Stage, @AlannaTweets