How To Retain Top IT Talent - InformationWeek

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IT Leadership // Team Building & Staffing
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How To Retain Top IT Talent

If your organization can't move beyond traditional work hours, it may have trouble keeping valuable tech employees happy. Here's what IT leaders need to know.

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The cost of tech talent is expected to rise next year, making talent retention even more of an issue for IT organizations than it is already.

According to staffing firm Robert Half International, starting salaries in the technology sector will increase 3.8% in 2017 over 2016, a sign that demand for tech talent is growing.

IT leaders are already fretting about the lack of skilled technology professionals. According to the 2016 Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO Survey released in May, 89% of CIOs surveyed said they are concerned about talent retention and 65% said "lack of talent will prevent them from keeping up with the pace of change," a 10% increase from 2015. The survey received 3,400 responses from CIOs and technology leaders across 82 countries.

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These concerns appear unlikely to go away over the next few years. Jobs for software developers, for example, are expected to increase by 17% from 2014 to 2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's faster than the average for all occupations. The situation for data scientists and network security engineers is similar.

IT leaders thus have reason to focus on retaining the technical talent they have. But doing so isn't necessarily easy, particularly if managers have not supported the advancement and growth of employees. Managerial inattention can magnify worker dissatisfaction and encourage the exploration of other employment opportunities.

(Image: wildpixel/iStockphoto)

(Image: wildpixel/iStockphoto)

In a phone interview, John Reed, senior executive director for Robert Half Technology, said the tech talent shortage is real, but primarily in certain speciality areas. "If you happen to be looking for someone in web development or cybersecurity or mobility or cloud computing, you're going to be very challenged to find qualified people available for the role," he said.

Reed said while the technology sector remains one of the brightest stars of employment, it may dim a bit. "We're on a six-year run," he said. "At some point, you have to have some normalization. You have to have the market coming back to an average level of compensation growth. It's not a pace that's sustainable."

Even if we're due for less vigorous growth, as companies which invested in projects following the 2008-2009 downturn move into maintenance mode, organizations still don't want to lose valuable employees.

"What we always recommend is your recruiting efforts should start with your existing staff," said Reed. "Your retention is paramount."

Companies, said Reed, too often focus on what they need and ignore the nurturing and care of their own people. "While they bring one person in the front door, someone else goes out the back," he said.

To retain employees, Reed suggested companies focus on basics such as keeping compensation competitive, ensuring workers have a clear career path, and providing the tools and training to help them advance their skills.

"Beyond that, organizations are continuing to be really creative and flexible with their staff," said Reed. "So you're seeing more and more instances of schedule flexibility."

Offering the ability to work from home or outside of normal business hours has become a common way to win favor with employees, said Reed, noting that it's not something every company can offer. He also said companies are doing more to recognize workers for accomplishments through reward programs.

Also, Reed said, companies should strive to make employees feel like they're part of something larger by fostering a sense of community. "When people feel like they're part of something, it's harder to pull themout of that," he said.

Communication is paramount. Reed said his firm does a lot of employee surveys to understand what employees are thinking. "People want to know what's happening," he said. "They want communication. If you don't communicate with them, they may make it up."

Smaller companies often have an easier time implementing changes such as flexible work hours, said Reed, but organizations of all sizes need to be creative within the boundaries that constrain them.

"You have to be open to changes [in what employees expect] or you become a recruiting source for other companies," said Reed.

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio

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User Rank: Ninja
9/6/2016 | 11:09:12 AM
We could always...
...legalize non-compete agreements for technical (maybe even all) employees.  Perhaps even something like the old reserve clause that used to be standard for professional athletes could be arranged.  That way techies who are unwilling to accept what they're given can look for another career, instead of just another job.
User Rank: Ninja
9/5/2016 | 9:47:15 AM
Flexibility is not the only issue
I have the luxury of rather flexible work hours including the option to work from home on short notice. Pay matches the market rate of the region, work is interesting, and I do like my coworkers. But that is where the good news ends. I am asked to do more work for same pay with always tighter deadlines and drastically reduced backing by management. I get zero direction and if there is any then it will be changed by the time next week comes along. When I work I am stressed out to the max. I just got back from three weeks vacation (all the time I get in a year, by far not enough!) and it took about three days until my stress level was so high again that I have problems sleeping at night, have to work nights and weekends, and again have to abandon projects that are 2/3rd done because now a totally different thing that was considered unimportant last week now has to be completed within two days.

I don't mind working long hours once in a while if there is a plan, if management has my back, if we can follow commonly agreed procedures, and if there is a reward of any kind in the end. I give everything I can and once annual review comes along it is likely not enough. The only advice I get is to "collaborate more" and "be more agile", empty words that mean nothing to anyone, but sound great to managers. Yet, the same crap will continue where we estimate 18 months for a massive project to get completed and then management promises the customer to have it all done in three months.

The grass is not always greener on the other side, but I am looking for different opportunities. If my employer wants to keep talent like mine then have a plan and start being reasonable. If I can have that I will gladly give up the COLA. Raises? Those do not exist anymore.
User Rank: Strategist
9/1/2016 | 11:20:41 AM
Still laughing
Given the growing increase in the percentage of IT managers that are sociopaths and sadists it is unlikely that any compensation package will induce anyone, let alone G-Zs, to stay put or come on-board.  As for retaining current staff, that is the last thing that uppper management, not only IT management is interested in doing.  The goal is to get rid of as many experienced, read high-paid, staff as possible and replace them with lower paid, lower experienced people.  The long term success of the enterprise is of no concern any more.
Susan Fourtané
Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
8/31/2016 | 10:30:52 AM
Flexibility and knowing what you have
Focusing on what they need ignoring what they have is a pretty common mistake companies make. Some companies pay a high price for this when realizing what they needed was actually right there, but sadly now that person has moved to another company to do exactly what they were looking for. Flexibility in both remote working, and flexible hours for those who require office presence is a great point to consider when thinking of retaining top IT talent. Remote work is a growing tendency that will take over in just a few years' time. -Susan
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