As 2012 is creeping up, many employers are now in budgeting mode, with compensation being a major expense under review. A recent compensation survey by Buck Consultants shows that retaining top talent is the No. 1 employee engagement goal in 2012, which suggests employers must find ways to remain competitive.

Of course, offering salary increases is necessary for talent retention, but this is especially true for high performers, says Ken Abosch, compensation group leader for Aon Hewitt. In a down economy, holding onto top performers is more important than ever, and those top performers won't be satisfied with stagnant incentives. The job market may be bleak, but top performers always have other opportunities, regardless of the economy.

"It's absolutely essential that an organization hold onto its top performers," Abosch says. "If for no other reason, this should be done because we've seen that the economic value for a high performer is often two times greater than the economic value of an average performer. The value is also probably three to four times greater than a below-average performer, so when an organization watches a high performer walk out the door that's not one employee. That's basically the impact of two or three employees leaving the organization."

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