You don't have to do anything to retain employees when they have nowhere to go. But doing nothing now will lead to problems tomorrow
As CIO, you've probably noticed some disturbing behaviours of late among your IT staff. Employees you've known for their loyal, dependable service are absent from work more often than ever before. On those days when they do manage to show up, these same employees - also formerly valued for their punctuality - are frequently tardy. While at work, their enthusiasm is not what it once was. Their adherence to project deadlines is slipping.
Such behaviour is certainly symptomatic of stress, which is on the rise among IT departments everywhere (see "Staff Alert", CIO June 2003). But it could also be a sign of something more insidious, something Roger Herman, CEO of management consultancy The Herman Group, calls warm-chair attrition.
In essence, employees suffering from warm-chair attrition have already left their jobs, at least mentally. Their physical departure only awaits the first uptick in the job market. How can you tell if your department is afflicted by warm-chair attrition as opposed to stress? Herman says a tell-tale sign is a marked increase in personal phone conversations.
Herman cites several surveys that indicate that 30 per cent to 40 per cent of today's employees focus on their next job rather than the one they currently have. That means they are spending much of their time at work looking for their next opportunity rather than doing what you're paying them for.
For CIOs whose IT departments are so afflicted, the long-term prognosis isn't good. Sure, with IT employment stagnant, there aren't a whole lot of options available for your database analysts, network administrators, software developers or help desk personnel. But when the tide does turn - and the only debate today seems to be over the issue of when, not if - the result will be a mass exodus. And it won't be the laggards who leave. For those IT departments that have already suffered retrenchments, most of the laggards are already long gone; those that remain most likely wear their inertia like a badge of honour. No, the first people out the door will be the folks with the most options - the best employees in your organisation. Just as the work increases, just as you ramp up to meet the challenge of an expanding market, just when you really need their expertise, they'll be beating a path to the door. That's why CIOs need to be proactive by addressing warm-chair attrition head-on.
Why They Want to Leave
When the economy was booming, retaining good employees was a real headache. All those perks and bonuses to dole out, and still employees left for greener pastures. Now with IT departments spending dollars like Ebeneezer Scrooge, opportunities for moving on are relatively scarce. You no longer have to tax your imagination or dip into your company's coffers to come up with carrots to keep your people at their posts. Yet retaining good people should still be among your top concerns.
The first steps to giving retention issues their due are 1. Acknowledge that your IT department has a problem; and 2. Realise that much of that problem has to do with your leadership. A staff beset by warm-chair attrition is a staff that has little sense of its contribution to the organisation or faith in its future role. It's the job of the CIO, not the HR department, to address both of those issues directly.
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