Susan Breidenbach is a freelance tech journalist who turns in a fair amount of copy to IDG's Network World magazine, online at Here she gives the lowdown on how to keep staff happy without paying them more… Impossible? You be the judge.

The economic downturn has eased retention woes, but IT managers now have to worry about maintaining morale.

"When you have low turnover, your people may leave on the job," says Kathy Fleenor, manager of emerging digital technologies for US-based Eastman Chemical.

In this case, employees may still show up but they've mentally checked out of the job. She should know. Her company is based in Kingsport, Tennessee, where employees don't have a lot of employment opportunities even in boom times.

So how do you keep morale up when the economy is making people feel less valued and monetary rewards may not be possible?

The good news is that studies consistently indicate that money isn't the top job-satisfaction factor.

In a survey by US firms Career Systems International and The Jordan Evans Group, salary ranked a distant fourth behind exciting and challenging work; career growth, learning and development; and working with great people.

If money isn't an option, establish that upfront and ask what else people want. You may have to say no to the first few requests, but if you push through this uncomfortable beginning, the employee will get to lots of things you can address.

"Probably three out of five requests are things that fall within your sphere of influence," says Beverly Kaye, founder of Career Systems International and co-author of ‘Love 'Em or Lose 'Em: Getting Good People to Stay.’

Being asked makes people feel cared about and important. Kaye recommends keeping a file of each employee's answers, and reviewing them once a month to see what you've done to meet individual needs.

Technical people rate challenge and career-development opportunities particularly high, so efforts in this direction should reap the most morale dividends.