When good employees leave, productivity sinks, morale suffers and colleagues struggle with an increased workload until you find a replacement. Add in recruitment and training costs, and on-boarding new hires can make for a difficult and expensive transition.
A recent survey from NodeSource reveals that 37 percent of 103 organizations surveyed are worried about finding good talent, and 35 percent worry they won’t be able to build successful teams. Make no mistake, finding and retaining talent is one of the major issues IT faces today.
The best solution is to keep your workers happy so they don't leave. But before you can implement a plan to increase employee retention, you need to determine why valuable employees are leaving. Here are the most common reasons employees jump ship to new employers.
"Most people don't quit their jobs; they quit their managers," says Wendy Duarte Duckrey, vice president of recruiting at JPMorgan Chase.
Understanding that your organization's management philosophy could be part of the problem is the first step to improving retention, she says.
"When you lose your top talent, the first place to look is at management," Duckrey says. "Managing teams as a whole is hard. You have to manage to each individual, and invest time into discovering what each member of a team needs both at work and outside of work to do their job to the best of their ability," she says.
Do your employees feel that they're all "in this together"? Do they feel their suggestions, concerns and challenges are acknowledged and, when possible, acted upon? Do they feel valued? Are they being listened to, or just heard?
While it may sound inconsequential, simply listening to employees' concerns and doing what you can to address those — or at least explaining why they can't be addressed at the present time — can go a long way toward keeping the best and brightest, Duckrey says.
"One manager with poor people skills can do damage to the culture and effectiveness of a company in a short period of time — managers need to be people-orientated and able to harness their team's talent and passion. Middle managers are a significant force in accomplishing the business objectives and are essential to the overall culture," says David Stevens, executive vice president of corporate relations at Valor Global.
Once you’ve identified problem managers, you need to dig a little deeper. Many problematic managers are simply rockstar developers or other tech talent promoted before they were ready, and ill-equipped to deal with the demands and nuances of management.
Skills that make an employee a great software developer or coder, for example, are completely different from those required for management. You need to provide the necessary training and guidance to help your managers lead and manage their teams.
"A critical mistake organizations can make is the assumption that [if] someone is great at their day job, they'll be great at leading and managing people," says Travis Furlow, a coach at Paperclip Thinking.
"One of the easiest ways to lose people is to misalign them with their daily duties. Organizations need to train people to be managers. Invest the time in developing, coaching and mentoring your managers," says Furlow. "Too often, people are promoted into management and then are left to fend for themselves."
In addition to offering managerial growth options, consider offering opportunities for succession that are lateral or that result in non-managerial roles.
"There are plenty of individual contributor roles that can make an impact in companies," says Joe Topinka, CIO of SnapAV. "Have clear career pathways for managers and supervisors as well as people who want to stay in an individual contributor path. Business relationship managers are good examples of people that can really make an impact in this regard. They don't have to manage people to drive real and meaningful business results."
Stevens agrees. "It is important to recognize that not everyone is interested in or cut out for managing people," he says. "So there must be an opportunity to advance along a couple of trajectories, [such as] technical SME and leadership/management … [where] both career paths are viable growth vectors."
There’s no room to grow
One of the main reasons top performers leave is because they feel that their career advancement isn't going as planned.
"It doesn't matter if they like what they're working on, who they're working with and are compensated fairly or more than fairly," says David Foote, chief analyst and research officer at Foote Partners. "They have to feel there's something in it for them personally," otherwise, they will be tempted to search for employment elsewhere, or be susceptible to recruiters.
But what if you don't have any nonmanagerial career paths, or employees don't want to become managers? Your best individual contributors aren't always going to want to manage people. So you need to build a career path for them or they will find another organization that does.
Making educational and career advancement opportunities available, even if they result in employees growing up and out of your organization, is a must, because you never know when an employee might return to your organization, or when they’ll make a key referral, says Duckrey.
"Make sure employees are aware of available opportunities to grow and to expand their knowledge," she says. "One of the key things — if you're really listening to employees — is to find out if they are getting the resources to add to and change their roles, to take on more and different responsibilities, to spearhead new projects, to experiment," Duckrey says.
"Most people don't want to come to a job every day and just slog through, doing the same thing day after day. They want to learn new things, try new things, and if you can support their efforts to do that, you'll inspire loyalty and that can help with retention," Duckrey says.
She adds that not all educational opportunities have to be job- or career-focused. At Duckrey’s previous employer, Mondo, a two-week sabbatical program was available for employees who've been with the company for three or more years.
"The sabbatical program is a huge motivator," she says. "If you've always wanted to travel, you can take the time and go to an exotic place, learn a new language, learn about a new culture and then come back and tell everyone about the experience and what you've learned.”
Tuition reimbursement programs are another avenue for employees “to make their lives richer, both inside and outside of work," she says.
You’re behind the bleeding edge
Keeping your technology current can help keep valuable employees excited about and engaged in the direction the company's going, says Rona Borre, CEO and founder of technology and finance hiring, recruiting and consulting firm Instant Alliance.
"We have two clients right now who can't necessarily afford to pay top-of-the-bracket salaries, but they are always updating their platforms and making sure they're on the cutting edge of technology," Borre says.
If new technology or upgrades aren't in the budget, consider sending employees to outside training on those cutting-edge systems, or encourage them to gain those skills, even if you can’t use them in your organization, she says. That will emphasize that you value their education and their emerging skill sets.
"Make sure they can get some new skills and experiences, even if they can't do it at work," she says. "Give them the flexibility and the freedom to play around, and also the opportunity to get exposure for themselves working with the new technology."
You’re not checking in regularly
If your managers aren’t offering constructive feedback on a regular basis or they don’t talk about career goals at least once a year with employees, then your organization is at risk of falling out of touch with your talent. While once a year performance reviews are the minimum, most experts agree that more frequent reviews are better, especially with millennials.
"The more frequently you can have those [performance] discussions, the easier it is to catch and correct a [problem] and support great behavior or performance," says Furlow. "Having a structured and pointed career development session every six months with the employees on your teams can add huge value when it comes to growth, engagement and retention."
Regular feedback will also give you more warning when people are feeling dissatisfied or disengaged. "Checking in with your employees a couple times a year provides a sense of interest in the employee's success and in many cases will give early warnings of dissatisfaction, allowing for an opportunity to change course if warranted," says Stevens.
Recognize and reward your employees for their outstanding work. Money isn't always the top motivator, so you've got to know on a individual basis what motivates your top talent. It could be internal recognition, a promotion, extra vacation or a flexible schedule. But you have to ask.
"The biggest impact companies can make is to recognize and reward solid performance. This can take the form of a pat on the back for a job well done, financial incentives, or even promotions and giving high performers more responsibility, "says Topinka.
Your workplace policies are too rigid
In the tech space, flexible scheduling and telecommuting have become more common, but not yet ubiquitous — and organizations like IBM and Yahoo have notoriously rescinding their work from home policies, even as demand from talent rises.
"Flexible work time and the ability to be a virtual employee are so prevalent in today's workforce that they are becoming an expectation," says Furlow. "The ability to work a flexible schedule can be a [great] way to retain professionals."
In fact, new research from Dice.com reveals that telecommuting is the most-wanted benefit tech pros are looking for. Some 60 percent of millennials, 53 percent of Generation Xers, and 61 percent of Baby Boomers stated a desire to work remotely half of the time or more in the Dice survey. In fact, 63 percent of respondents to a separate Dice snap poll said they would be willing to take a pay cut to telecommute at least half the time, and 27 percent would reduce their salary by 11 percent.
“This is a major demand we see from talent,” says George McFerran, executive vice president at Dice. “And for organizations that can’t compete on salary to get that elite tech talent, offering remote and telecommuting options — even just part of the time or a few days a week — means they’ll be able to land those great hires.”
Your mission is muddled
If employees don't understand what the organization's, or their department's, goals are, or what their role is in the overall strategy, chances are, they will not be as engaged. Having a strong set of corporate values, a mission statement and specific goals (for the company, departments, teams and individuals) can help direct employees' energy and help them see how their individual contributions are part of a greater whole, says Borre.
"One thing we see when we measure employee satisfaction is that most people want to work somewhere with a strong corporate culture, one that clearly defines its mission and has a set of values that every employee, from the CEO on down, has bought into, believes in, and is tracking to," says Borre.
"That gives them a stake in the company, a way to measure success. But they also need to feel valued as part of that bigger whole," Borre says.
Helping employees feel valued isn't difficult, says Borre, but it may involve investing a bit more time to listen, gather feedback and incorporate that feedback into company policies and mission statements, she says. It could also require a bit more capital to ensure compensation is tracking with national averages and offering perks that match or exceed those available at similar firms, she says.
"Communicating the technology strategy and how it reflects the organization's objectives is essential to employee engagement," says Stevens. "This is so central to succeeding that it needs to be continually and consistently presented at various levels of the organization, so the team can be part owners and champions of the strategy."
You’re not facilitating work-life balance
Paying attention to employees' struggles to manage work and home life also can go a long way toward keeping top talent, Duckrey says. And it’s often the little things that work best.
"It can be as simple as having a bowl of fresh fruit in the break room. It can be something like offering a dry-cleaning service that picks up and delivers items for employees while they're at work. Little things that emphasize the importance of work-life balance go a long way toward making employees feel that they're not just disposable cogs in a wheel, but a valuable asset to the company, and to their families," says Duckrey.
By constantly inviting feedback, listening to employees' concerns and incorporating that into the fabric of everyday life — both for the company and for employees' home lives — you can ensure you're keeping and nurturing the best and brightest, Duckrey says.
"There is a talent shortage, and you're going to have to give a little to be able to retain top talent," Duckrey says. "You don't have to be a mega-billion-dollar corporation or spend tons of money to give people luxury perks or rockstar treatment; what you do have to do is give people the opportunity to grow, and to evolve and change to meet the needs of your employees."
Related hiring and staffing articles:
Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.