"We use it especially from an (employee) attraction-and-retention standpoint," said Garnett. "As we grow, we can grow this benefit for employees with children."

Tight job market

Hiring needs in the third quarter of this year are expected to continue unabated in Los Angeles County, according to a staffing report recently released by Manpower Inc., a Milwaukee-based recruiter. That will only exacerbate a worker shortage that many employers, particularly in high-tech industries, have been grappling with for close to two years now.

According to Manpower's survey, 34 percent of employers in L.A. County expect to increase their employee rosters in the period, up from 24 percent in the second quarter. In the Valley and the Westside of L.A., 39 percent of employers expect to add new hires, the report said.

The scarcity of workers has sent many companies scurrying to find ways to distinguish themselves to potential applicants, and while signing bonuses, stock options and other monetary incentives are still high on the list of tactics, human resources professionals report they sometimes are not enough to do the job.

Monthly meetings of the Northern San Fernando, Santa Clarita and Antelope Valley chapter of the Professionals in Human Resources Association draw one-and-a-half times as many attendees when the featured topic is recruiting, said Jenny Roney, a district chair for the PIHRA chapter. "It used to be that attorneys were the big turnout (when they spoke about employment law)," she said. "But last year and this year, the big interest is in how to attract employees. You can't even get to retention because these people are so desperate to recruit them."

Getting creative with benefits

Companies of all sizes report that, with demographic changes lowering the average age of employees, they are seeing worker priorities shift from perks that put food on the table to those that feed the soul.

"When you talk about non-cash recognition and reward, a lot of companies are trying to create environments where employees are content and happy," said Karen Jorgensen, president of Jorgensen HR, a human resources consulting firm in La Canada Flintridge. "I think over the last three years, we're seeing a real focus, especially because of the unemployment levels, on best practices found in leading companies that have excellent retention rates."

Jorgensen said her clients are adding health club memberships and providing personal trainers, catering breakfasts and lunches for employees, and unbundling benefits packages to tailor perks to individual needs. "A benefit package might be, we'll give you $5,000 in benefits, and you can choose to use it for graduate school or child care or something else," Jorgensen said.

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