3 Reasons Your Top IT Pros Leave - InformationWeek
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11:02 AM

3 Reasons Your Top IT Pros Leave

Here's why your best people might be looking for another job -- and expert advice on how to keep them.

Attracting top talent is harder than ever for CIOs, CTOs and IT managers. That makes retaining the "A" performers on your current team all the more crucial. So why do your best people keep leaving for other jobs?

There's a diverse set of reasons why IT pros seek greener pastures in another organization, ranging from the empirical -- a 30% raise, say -- to the anecdotal. Perhaps their boss' idiosyncrasies drive them to the loony bin.

What's clear is that finding qualified replacements for departing staff is no easy task. A recent HDI research report calls the current IT labor market a "war for talent." The issue is not finding candidates; post a job opening online and you'll likely be inundated with resumes. The problem is finding qualified candidates with the right set of technical skills for the job, according to HDI director of content Cinda Daly.

[ For more insight on how to retain IT talent, read 4 IT Leadership Failures That Make Employees Leave. ]

The HDI study found, for example, that nearly two-thirds (62%) of respondents struggle to fill "level 2 or 3 and/or desktop support" roles with qualified people. Management's not much easier; 59% of companies have trouble finding IT executives with the right skills and experience for the job.

With that kind of hiring picture, you can't afford to lose the good people you already have. Daly identified three critical issues that tend to underlie IT job dissatisfaction and motivate workers with in-demand skills to start looking around for a better opportunity. The first one should come as no surprise.

1. Money.

Were you expecting a different headliner? The almighty dollar is a big mover and shaker in the labor market. "Compensation is always a key factor," Daly said in an interview. Money might sound obvious, but it's complicated by the fact that many companies froze even cost-of-living pay increases -- let alone actual raises -- for several years during the recent recession. Those organizations that continue to keep a lid on labor costs may be paying a higher long-term price on the IT talent front. "[Frozen pay] added a lot of stress and pressure," noted Daly, who will moderate the "Strategic Staffing: Winning the War for Talent" panel at the upcoming Interop conference. "That's an incentive to move."

2. Opportunities For Learning And Advancement.

The good news for budget-constrained businesses: Money's not the be-all, end-all. In fact, IT pros care almost as much about the chance to acquire new skills and move up the organizational chart, according to Daly. Training, education and career upside are roughly as valuable as current compensation on the list of reasons talented people start looking elsewhere -- yet management often overlooks these issues.

"When there are limited opportunities for people to grow, to have a career path, to learn and stay up to date on things -- those are equally important to compensation," Daly said, noting that many companies slashed training budgets during the economic downturn. "In the IT profession especially, with so much rapid technological change, people cannot afford to get behind in their skills." If their current gig restricts their ability to keep their skills ahead of the curve, Daly said, "They're going to go look for places where they can."

3. Stress And Workload.

Stress and workload might seem like a no-brainer, but in the IT context it's a double whammy. Daly said that some 73% of companies are struggling to fill their open IT headcount. In the meantime, many of those firms are parceling out the extra work to existing employees. Translation: Those open desks are not only hard to fill, but they're burning out the current staff in the meantime. That often makes external opportunities much more attractive, sometimes simply by virtue of the chance to focus on one job rather than needing to cover three or four.

"Everything starts to get overloaded, everyone gets stressed, and mistakes happen in those scenarios," Daly said. "It's very prevalent. There's now empirical evidence that shows that connection between stress and workload, and people will move on."

Worried your top-tier talent might be sniffing around on the job market? Stay tuned for an upcoming story on some of the warning signs -- and some ideas for making your IT organization more attractive to current and future employees.

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User Rank: Apprentice
4/23/2013 | 1:49:46 PM
re: 3 Reasons Your Top IT Pros Leave
Sorry, I didn't check back very soon to see your reply to mine. While I agree that the concept was a good one, my thoughts would be to ask if the Manager asked the Engineer to help him put together the RIGHT project to showcase Linux ? It could be that the planning was done in isolation (something that I see happen frequently) and that the project might not have been one that the Engineer felt would lead to a success for Linux (there are some areas where Windows is more appropriate and different areas where Linux can definitely shine). Important to make sure that the Engineer is part of the planning, if he is going to be the one expected to buy in to the showcasing project.
Andrew Hornback
Andrew Hornback,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/22/2013 | 4:09:57 AM
re: 3 Reasons Your Top IT Pros Leave
I would have to agree with your point here, but the difficulty becomes one where the middle managers are given the task of both making sure that the lower levels on the totem pole get the job done as well as keeping them involved and engaged.

Anecdotal case in point - in an organization that I'm familiar with, one of the Level II engineers was a big fan of Linux. His manager knew this, but at the same time there was a reluctance by the upper echelons in the IT division to move away from the standard Windows/Office deployment. The manager, trying to balance out the wants of the engineer, the needs of the organization and quell the fears of upper management set up a project with a very specific set of guidelines and goals for the engineer to build out a test Linux environment to demonstrate how it would possibly be used to replace Windows in the enterprise. If it could be demonstrated that there would be little learning curve on the part of the standard knowledge worker and that administration costs would not go up, this idea could have saved the organization a bucket of money on licensing costs annually - 6 figures worth of savings per year would have been a pretty good sized feather in the cap. Upon assigning the project and discussing the goals, the engineer decides that the manager is all wrong and essentially short circuits the project - all of the planning on the project went up in smoke.

One of the big things in that situation was about communication and trying to give someone a project that they would really be able to sink their teeth into, but the X-factor became the employee's reluctance to work within the guidelines.

It's a huge balancing act when you start trying to give people things to do that they would enjoy working on - but that requires communication, not exactly the average technical staffer's forte. In today's environment, money's in short supply in a lot of organizations (whether for salaries, benefits or training/learning opportunities) and the stress levels are up because of the drive to do more with less.

Andrew Hornback
InformationWeek Contributor
User Rank: Apprentice
3/21/2013 | 2:38:16 PM
re: 3 Reasons Your Top IT Pros Leave
Sometimes the move doesn't even have to be UP in the sense of a Management move. Sometimes it is an opportunity to contribute in a different way than they have before as they obtain a broader knowledge of the company, how to contribute to projects and ask the right questions, etc... Talking with employees to find out what they would like to be doing may shed light onto what will energize them to contribute to the overall success of the company.
User Rank: Apprentice
3/12/2013 | 4:27:04 PM
re: 3 Reasons Your Top IT Pros Leave
Damn I hope they didn't pay you for this article. Money, opportunity, workload? Really? That's the best you`can do?

How about CIO's that are so stupid they can't find the water cooler?
How about the financial squeeze on IT departments as the company says IT is too expensive yet all the execs want an IPad, iPhone, Mac etc ..and drive up IT costs.
How about clueless business unit owners that blame IT but can't write a comprehensive business plan outlining what they need from IT to be successful?

This are just a few off the top of my head without even trying.

Try again Kevin, you can do better!
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