Even in a challenging unemployment market, managers are concerned about retention and are willing to pay more to recruit top talent, according to new research from Robert Half. 

Regional Central Jersey Manager Dora Onyschak said employers still struggle for high in-demand roles amid unemployment so the smart employers are paying at or above market compensation to make sure their securing that talent both from a retention perspective as well as attracting new talent.

The survey also found that in a pre-Covid era, employees placed greater importance on salaries and different benefits. But in a post-COVID world, she said it's become more about flexibility. Employees want to work for companies that care and respond to their needs.

About 88% of senior managers worry about losing top talent, according to the survey, and almost 40% of them say salary reductions and freezes are to blame for their concerns.

About 72% have either maintained or increased compensation for new hires since the pandemic began and 36% said they're more likely to negotiate salary with new hires compared to a year ago.

Onyschak said the top effective retention strategy is money. But she said managers need to understand the needs of their staff. She said scheduling flexibility is especially important for workers who have children at home doing remote learning.

She also said senior managers need to find out what other companies are offering. An employer can lose a valuable employee because the competition may be offering something that the employee values more.

When negotiating salaries, Onyschak said employees first need to know their value. Then prepare with research on the salary trends specific to that person's position in terms of not just duties but the skills and experience levels too. Make sure to research the company's financial standing. Be prepared to ask questions about revisiting a potential conversation about a salary increase when the business is in a better position to do so. Many companies are not in a position to provide increases now but will be down the road, she added.

Practice asking for what you want and learning to address any concerns the organization may have.

"Just be honest about your current situation and your salary expectations," said Onyschak.

This is the best piece of advice she said she has for employees. People who throw out numbers that they're not comfortable with wind up getting stuck there.