Tips for Retaining Your Key Technology Talent

How hard is it to retain technology professionals? Ridiculously hard, especially with rival companies willing to pay premiums in order to steal away specialized talent. And it’s also ridiculously expensive: multiple studies report the cost of replacing an employee ranges from the equivalent of six to nine months’ salary. (In other words, replacing a developer who earns $100,000 annually might cost between $50,000 and $75,000 in recruiting, training, and onboarding costs.)

But why do tech pros actually walk out the door? There are a number of reasons. According to Dr. Kim Turnage, co-author of Managing to Make a Difference (a recent study from the Kapor Center for Social Impact): “Unfair treatment is the single largest driver of turnover in technology. Whether people experience unfairness directly or witness it directed toward their coworkers, toxic cultures drive good people away.”

Reverse the Culture

Yes, culture is a huge driver of whether tech pros choose to stay in their current positions. James Stevenson, managing director of the Bletchley Group, a business IT consulting company, points to top management as a potential pain point. “While there are lots of reasons for people to [leave], such as a better job offer in a hot market, start-ups failing, better technology stack,” he wrote in an email, “I think fundamentally all people leave their job because of the culture and I put their boss into that category, also.”

“Most bosses are never given any training or skills to be a boss,” Stevenson continued, “and therefore they have to make this up as they go along. A lot of what I do with my clients, either as a consultant or as a coach, is to raise awareness of how to manage people to get the most out of them. They say people are a companies’ [sic] greatest asset, and they are right.”

The solution to this culture conundrum isn’t necessarily easy, but it is straightforward: Turnage suggests that organizations need to make employees feel significant: “Make people the highest priority for every manager, every leader and the organization as a whole.” That prioritization will make employees feel more centered and potentially happier.

Free Tech Pros from the Cube

Anna Daugherty, digital marketing manager of PITSS (an Oracle software company), suggests that employees are happier (and more likely to stay onboard) when freed from the corporate office. And indeed, many technology pros view the cubicle as a prison. Remote-working benefits can serve as the perk that keeps employees locked down for the long term.

“Modern business comes with the ability to work from almost anywhere,” she wrote. “Yes, some organizations are still stuck with on-premises solutions that require IT pros to operate from on-location. However, as more organizations modernize their legacy infrastructure, they’re moving to cloud-based architectures that provide IT pros with more freedom and flexibility than ever before. Considering a move to cloud infrastructure is a great way to help retain modern IT talent.”

Manage Expectations

Another key step for retention: manage employee expectations. It all begins during the hiring and onboarding process, noted Alfred Poor, a speaker and technology expert. “Prospective employees need to understand what they’ll be doing, and why it is important for the company,” he said. “They need to understand just how long it will be before they are likely to get a raise, and how long it will be before a promotion.”

Younger employees often arrive with unrealistic expectations that need to be reset, lest they get impatient when they don’t end up advancing as rapidly as they’d hoped. “Employees also want their work to be relevant,” Poor added. “Involve them in teams where they can see the result of their efforts, and what the consequences are if they do a good job or a bad one. Managers need to do a better job of connecting the dots for them so that they can see the bigger picture.”

Educational Opportunities

This might prove the biggie. A recent study by DevelopIntelligence, a developer training company, found that most staffers spend seven hours per week of their own time learning new job skills. At the same time, however, respondents spent an average of just two hours in formal training opportunities. That gap suggests companies aren’t offering all the training that employees clearly want.

It’s not a stretch to assume that companies offering more educational opportunities see increased rates of employee happiness. John Maglione, a senior talent acquisition specialist at WWT Asynchrony Labs, a custom software house, suggested that his firm’s annual attrition rate remains low due to a comprehensive training program. There’s also a “learning team” that helps new hires acclimate to the workplace.

WWT Asynchrony Labs’ development environment offers “opportunities such as being an Apple Mobility Partner,” Maglione added, “which gives our staff great experience on first-rate projects to help them advance their skills.”

A recent CompTIA survey of 820 IT professionals found that more than half (53 percent) wanted more resources for training and professional development. Almost as many (48 percent) wanted more career-advancement opportunities and career path guidance; and another 44 percent wished for access to more tools, technologies, and applications.

At the same time, 24 percent of those respondents worried about a lack of resources to do their jobs effectively; another 23 percent were concerned that their skills would become obsolete; and a lack of work-life balance kept 22 percent awake at night.

Trave Harmon, CEO of Triton Technologies, agrees with the need for work-life balance. “After five o’clock, that technician [is] done. If after that, our services are needed, the client must upgrade or pay a very high rate, even with the contract, because we make it very clear that we are technicians, not slaves, and our employees appreciate that.”

Eric Lay, professional services manager at software-assets firm Swiel Consulting, seconded that sentiment: “IT employees have a tendency to overwork and you sometimes have to save them from themselves. If you’re always leaning on them to travel all over and constantly stay late to resolve another issue, they will burn out and leave—no matter what the rest of the job looks like.”

Conclusion

In the end, keeping technology pros in place hinges on a variety of factors—and money, while important, isn’t the one thing capable of a highly motivated (and specialized) employee onboard. Managers need to listen to what their reports want and need.

Or as Fred Richards, a cloud engineer, sums it up: “It comes down to Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. Leave me alone, let me learn, and make sure it’s fulfilling work.” Kindness and reasonable work expectations can also help keep employees for years, as opposed to months.

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