Why are employers failing to retain valuable tech workers, even after lavishing them with outrageous perks and generous salaries? It’s because they are not in tune with their employees’ perceptions and preferences.
While 61 percent of tech pros feel “appreciated” by their current employer, nearly 59 percent think they’re underpaid and are planning to jump ship next year, according to a recent survey by Spiceworks.
And in a recent survey by Saba, only 22 percent of employees believe their organizations provide easy access to training and development programs that help with career advancement. In contrast, over 40 percent of HR managers think their T&D programs are working.
One of the biggest problems is that tech pros aren’t asked for feedback, at least not on a regular basis. If you solicit their input and ideas, you may find that most significant drivers of turnover among technical professionals are actionable, which matches the research findings and conclusions of Dr. Gerry Ledford, senior research scientist for the Center for Effective Organizations at the University of Southern California.
To help you get started, here’s a list of the must-have retention strategies that employers must “ante up” just to get into the retention game.
Competitive Pay and Benefits
To keep talented tech pros from defecting, companies must have market-based pay systems that align with their employees’ philosophy, workloads and expectations. In fact, clearly defining your employee value proposition up-front helps you attract and keep culturally compatible people.
“You need complete transparency,” noted Chason Hecht, CEO of Retensa, a talent-management firm that specializes in cultures of retention. “That doesn’t mean you have to divulge what everyone else is making, but you have to spell out how salaries and rewards are awarded and remove politics from the process.”
How you structure your compensation package also makes a big difference when it comes to retention.
“It’s easy for a competing firm to simply offer a slightly higher salary,” Ledford said. “While longer-term incentives such as equity and performance bonuses act like glue and encourage employees to think and act like owners.”
When it comes to structuring a deal, one size does not fit all, Ledford added. You may need to make exceptions or change the compensation mix to attract and retain professionals working on longer-term R&D projects. Finally, given that technology professionals often work at a pace that invites burnout, time off is the most significant non-financial benefit in reducing turnover.
Career Planning and Development
Based on Ledford’s research, long-term career opportunities are one of the most significant predictors of retention, followed by satisfaction with training and development. Tech pros are looking for a career roadmap, the opportunity to rotate among various projects, and ample time to study and enhance their skills.
“To truly be a learning organization, professionals need the ability to carve out time during the workday specifically for training,” Hecht said.
Making professionals put in extra hours for training or other purposes has been connected to absenteeism and employee turnover.
Scientific and technical professionals care greatly about the work they do, and a winning strategy encompasses several key elements, according to Peter Melby, president of Greystone Technology, a service and solutions provider.
First, tech pros want a certain level of control over the way work gets done and autonomy in making decisions. Indeed, research shows that job design has a major impact on employee motivation, job satisfaction, absenteeism and turnover.
Second, because their work results are often tough to measure, tech pros want continuous feedback. And finally, they want risk protection so they feel empowered to try new ideas and approaches.
To that end, Greystone managers give staffers five areas to focus on when they tackle an assignment or project—but they let the tech pros decide which approach to take. They’ve also built trust by instituting a timely, self-reporting progress system. Tech pros give managers a snapshot of their progress bi-weekly so managers can offer support and feedback.
To make sure their fingers remain on the pulse of employees, managers engage in one-on-one feedback sessions every four weeks. As Melby noted, companies need structure and consistent execution to effectively gather feedback: “If someone makes a mistake, we view it as a learning opportunity… Our response is positive, not punitive.”
The Latest Technology
If your company doesn’t provide the opportunity to work on awesome projects with cutting-edge tools, the rock stars will jump to a company that does.
Many tech pros expect to work long hours; but when they do, they want some ability to control their own schedules. Specifically, they want options like flextime, compressed workweeks and telecommuting.
From the employer’s perspective, there are plenty of reasons to acquiesce on that front. According to statistics compiled by Global Workplace Analytics, 80 percent of employees consider telework to be a valuable job perk, and 95 percent of employers say telework has a high impact on employee retention.
A startling 98 percent of managers feel like they need more training to deal with issues such as professional development, conflict resolution, employee turnover, time management and project management. And poor management, especially the inability to deal with low-performers, was cited as the leading cause of attrition of top performers in a recent survey.
“Stress isn’t the same thing as strain,” Ledford noted. Good managers reduce frustrations and knock down barriers.
Perks such as onsite laundry services, foosball, yoga classes and gym memberships are not retention strategies, but you may need to ante up in highly competitive markets.
“You need bells and whistles to compete for top talent in competitive tech hubs like the Silicon Valley or Austin, but they won’t keep someone from leaving,” Ledford said.