Companies Find Cheap Ways to Boost Employee Morale

"Instead of being loyal to a company, Generation X and Generation Y are loyal to their careers and want to build their skill banks," Goldner said.

But costly workshops and training programs aren't the only way to help employees grow their skills.

"The real learning takes place with real problems and real issues on the job," Goldner said. "It's about serving on a team that's solving any kind of issue, either as a member or a leader. It's about shadowing somebody who has a skill you'd like to acquire. It's about delegating something that's old hat to you to an employee who's interested in gaining new experience."

Lunches and Mentoring

For some companies, employee growth and education has taken a more personal turn.

Aflac, the Georgia-based supplemental insurance provider, offers a "Lunch and Learn" program that Audrey Boone Tillman, the company's executive vice president of corporate services, calls "really popular." Held on campus during lunch hours, topics range from digging out of debt to buying a first home to caring for older relatives.

And at Nurse Next Door, a private home care provider based in Vancouver, British Columbia, personal development is serious business. Last year, the company, which had to cut raises and bonuses and scale back paid vacations from five weeks to two, launched a "Dreams Program" where coaches mentor employees monthly to help them work toward their big life goals.

"We've seen employees buy their first homes, take dream trips around the world and even climb mountains in Africa," said John DeHart, the company's co-founder.

Flex Employee Schedules

It's time more companies recognized that flexible work schedules can benefit both their bottom line and employee retention, said Hewlett, who's researched real-world examples of successful flex work programs extensively.

"The old systems of talent management don't work anymore," she said. "Time really does become a new currency."

DeHart of Nurse Next Door, which employees 3,000 workers throughout Canada, agrees.

"So many of our best caregivers and nurses are moms with young children," explained Hart, who has a 3-year-old himself. "They were struggling to work because their kids were their priority."

To make it easier for employees to shuttle their kids to and from school while holding down a job, DeHart created a flexible work program called The Mommy Shift, which offers moms and dads a part-time weekday shift of 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Parents in this program also have the option to take summers off when their kids are out of school and return to their job in the fall.

"It's really helped us recruit and retain our staff," DeHart said.

"At the end of the day, it's about creating the right culture," Goldner said.

"It's about how you treat your employees and your leaders. That's become so significant because of the inability to provide the raises and bonuses that people are used to. And when we round the corner, it's going to determine whether they stay or go."

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Michelle Goodman is a freelance journalist and former cubicle dweller. She is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube". For more information, see Anti9to5Guide.com.

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