Two out of five IT pros are looking for a new job, according to a new IT salary survey. Some of them could be your top performers. Here are some ideas on what to do differently to help increase retention.

 I just read Chris Murphy’s InformationWeek article “How to Lose Your Best IT Employees” and found it pretty interesting.  He brought forth some points that made sense when I read them but were a little surprising: for example, 2 out of 5 IT people are looking for a new job, according to InformationWeek’s survey.  They also found that pay is important, but people will trade some pay for job satisfaction.  People want to feel that their opinion and knowledge is valued. 

I think most of us realize that these are important aspects of keeping people on payroll.  In fact, if we think about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, it makes perfect sense.  Once people have money enough to provide for their families and themselves, they want other things (not that more money isn’t a plus, especially the way my wife loves shoes :-) ).

Now don’t worry, I’m not about to start a thesis on the psychology of people.  It’s far from my expertise, but I do want to talk about some things that we can do to increase retention.  Obviously we can pay more, but we’re limited by corporate guidelines, as Chris points out.  Putting in a fully funded cafeteria like Google is probably not under our control.  Installing popcorn machines, espresso coffee machines, foosball tables – all fun, but again not always within our authority.   These “big” things are great but usually we can only control “small” things but don’t lose hope, small things can go a long, long way. 

I haven’t always been a consultant; for a long time I was on the other side of the table and a good portion of my career was with GE.  Yes, there are a lot of things that can be criticized about GE, but while I was there, I learned a lot about rewards and recognition and how to keep people happy at their jobs.  Since then, and especially as a consultant, I’ve worked for, and with, a lot of organizations and seen a lot of good practices and some practices that I guess I could say “need improvement”.  Chris pointed out in his article a lot of factors impacting why people look for new jobs and I want to suggest a few things that you can do that might reduce your turnover.

First, don’t underestimate the power of recognition. How many of you have heard “I don’t want my name mentioned at a meeting or put in a presentation”?  I know throughout my career I’ve had people that worked for me that shied away from recognition.  And I’ve also known a lot of managers that say “they don’t like being called out in a meeting, it embarrasses them”.  Well, personally I think this is a cop out.  People will say that they don’t want the recognition because they are shy or afraid or being teased by peers, and sometimes because they don’t think it will happen so they are keeping their expectations low.  This then becomes an easy excuse for management to not do anything.  I don’t care who you are, and what anyone says, being recognized for a job well done feels good.  People like to be acknowledged for their efforts and contributions.  Our job is to figure out what kind of recognition means the most to them.  We also have to make sure that recognition is appropriate, frequent, and timely.  Sometimes a simple thank you is enough, other times it is a monetary reward. 

Once, I had a couple of guys working for me on a big project, and they were putting in a huge amount of hours at night and on weekends.  Part way though the project I acknowledged their efforts by sending flowers to their wives with a thank you note for them tolerating what their husbands were going through.  Funny part is they both came storming into my office the next day complaining about the grief they got at home.  “How come you don’t give me flowers?  Your boss does!”  “If he keeps sending me flowers like this, you can keep working!”  They were kidding, obviously, but it meant a lot to them (and their wives) that I recognized the toll big projects take on families.  Needless to say, they continued to work hard and did a great job for me. 

How much does it cost to bring in pizza and soda for a team that’s working hard?  Simple thing, low cost, but it recognizes hard work and gets people that are working together a chance to socialize a bit.  Another time I had a team working lots of weekends for me, so one Sunday I had a chef come in and cook made-to-order omelets for them.  Yes, it was a little more money, but it was a lot more fun and they appreciated it.  And by the way, it doesn’t cost a dime to write a thank you email to someone copying your boss so the person realizes you are acknowledging their efforts to others.

Second, show your team that you value and appreciate them at a personal level. One “rule” I have is that if I go out with my HP Technology Services team for happy hour or an HP team dinner, we can’t talk work.  Now I’m not saying you can’t have a working dinner, but it is easy to spend every moment you are with your team discussing the latest project.  I try to make sure that we get to know each other.  It’s next to impossible to not revert to work conversations, but by trying to keep it to a minimum – by talking about kids, pets, sports, hobbies, or whatever – we can build relationships among us HPers that make us a more effective team. It just helps that we are taking a break from work and “recharging our batteries” a little.  I think this makes us a stronger team and helps us be more effective in the workplace.

Do you rely only on bonuses and gift cards, or do you reward employees with non-financial items?  What’s the most creative way you’ve thanked someone?

Bottom line is that someone can always pay your people more than you can, but they can’t always make their company a better place to work.  What are you doing to make people want to work for you and want to work for your company?

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