Is your IT team toiling with one foot pointed toward the exit sign? It's not always so obvious as an employee leaving a resume on the printer tray.
Recognizing the warning signs of unhappy employees is a vital IT management skill. When you see them, you can act before your employees -- and especially your best employees -- start leaving for other jobs.
"You're more concerned with trying to keep your best people," said Cinda Daly, director of content at HDI, in an interview. It's far easier, Daly added, to watch subpar performers leave -- don't let the door hit you in the you-know-what on your way out, as the saying goes. "It's hard to keep the really good, conscientious, strong employees. If you start to see [warning signs that they may leave], you've got to hit it head-on."
[ Retaining top talent isn't easy. Here's why your best IT pros might be polishing up their resumes: 3 Reasons Your Top IT Pros Leave. ]
In identifying several of those signs, Daly gave a nod to John Reed, senior executive director at the IT recruiting firm Robert Half Technology. Reed is among the experts who will sit on Daly's panel, "Strategic Staffing: Winning the War For Talent," at the upcoming Interop conference in Las Vegas. Let's take a closer look at some of the omens that indicate your top talent might be job hunting.
1. People Act Differently In Team Settings
Changes in attitude and behavior, especially in group project work or other collaborative settings, should catch your eye. This doesn't mean someone starts behaving badly, per se. It could be far more subtle, such as the usually gregarious employee who suddenly goes quiet, or the always-punctual team member who suddenly starts showing up ten minutes late to meetings.
"Someone who was previously very enthusiastic and is suddenly withdrawn and indifferent, you need to be looking at [that]," Daly said.
2. "A" Performers Start Making Rookie Mistakes
There can be all manner of reasons, both obvious and subtle, for changes in job performance. But slips in performance can be a clear sign that your most talented people might have their eye on a new job outside the company. When your all-stars start turning in mediocre or downright shoddy results, something's up.
"They start to miss deadlines, they start to make errors more frequently -- particularly in patterns you haven't seen before -- because they're distracted or disengaged," Daly said. "They've got their minds on the exit strategy and not what's going on at hand."
3. Flip-Flops Become Dress Shoes
Changes in dress and appearance -- especially in offices with loose or nonexistent dress code requirements -- are probably not a superficial coincidence.
"We live in a pretty casual workplace environment," Daly noted. "If people start to dress more professionally -- they're a little more buttoned up -- that's a change in pattern and a warning sign." That doesn't necessarily mean the shabby dresser starts showing up decked out in tailored $2,000 suits; it could be the difference between a t-shirt and a collar.
So what do you when you see the red flags of employee dissatisfaction waving in plain sight? Money can solve a lot of people problems, but it's not a panacea. It's also often in short supply in smaller businesses and other organizations with tight budgets. In any case, focus on perks, benefits, and corporate culture. These include areas like opportunities for new-skill acquisition; allowing a less experienced employee to learn new technologies on the job, for example, rather than requiring them to do so when they're off the clock. A visible career path is also important -- if there's nowhere to go but sideways, you'll struggle to retain your most talented people.
There are two other related perks that are often highly valued among IT pros -- and they can be big recruiting and retention tools. They've also been in the news lately thanks for a policy change at Yahoo: Schedule flexibility and the ability to work remotely.
IT executives who say no to working from home or other remote locations might be doing themselves a disservice, according to Daly. Scheduling and location flexibility fall under the "work-life balance" header and, when properly implemented and managed, can provide CIOs with a competitive advantage in the labor market.
"So many people have kids, [for example]. They want to be able to go to soccer games. It sounds so ordinary, but it's true," Daly said. "Companies have to be willing to provide that flexibility and culture. A lot of managers fight that and struggle with it."
Bottom line: If you ignore the warning signs or let the underlying issues fester, you're begging for a talent-turnover problem. "You can't let this continue to loom," Daly said.
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