Leadership

10 ways to keep your IT staff from jumping ship

If you want to retain the best talent for your shop, you may need to adopt a few strategies to build loyalty and boost morale.

Attrition can get the best of any business, but there are plenty of ways to make sure the people you hire remain faithful to your company or department. Some methods of employee retention don't even require you to spend a single penny of your IT budget.

And here's the thing. Going the extra mile to ensure employee retention, in and of itself, will go a long way toward showing your employees you mean business when it comes to keeping them in your business. How can you create and maintain an environment that will encourage your staff to stick around? Let's take a look at 10 possible steps you can take.

1: Allow a modicum of freedom

Locking down your employees so that they feel they have no freedoms will see those employees bailing. But don't think you have to just open the flood gates to freedom. Instead, choose what you want to allow. Maybe it's more freedom for dress code or not blocking social networking for your IT staff. Always remember one thing: Your IT staff is smart. If you block networks, most likely (and hopefully) they can figure a way around that block. If you're uncomfortable allowing your staff free rein of your network, give them their own subnet to play on.

2: Encourage growth

Your staff needs to grow. If you allow them to stagnate, they will feel like they aren't going anywhere. IT pros must always feel challenged, so encourage those challenges by allowing those staff members to take classes. You could even have qualified staff members teach internal classes. If it's within your means, offer to compensate staff for taking classes on their own dime. The education your staff gains will ultimately benefit you and your company.

3: Listen to your employees

Your staff is the heartbeat of your department. If they aren't happy, the department will not run smoothly. But the idea of listening to your staff does not end at complaints. The members of your IT department will always have ideas on how to run your systems, improve your network, and maybe even better manage your infrastructure. Don't shoot those ideas (and thus employees) down before you even hear them out.

4: Sponsor team-building outings

It sounds corny, but team-building exercises can actually help improve morale. These outings can be as simple as a weekly or monthly lunch (on the company dime) where all members of the IT department can go off the clock and just enjoy an hour or two of camaraderie. Not only will this help your employees get to know one another, it will help them see that you are on their side and have their best interests in mind.

5: Extend company pricing

Companies often get special pricing on computers and other IT-related hardware. Extend that pricing to your department so that they can enjoy new tech. Having your department members running the best hardware at home will help keep them up to date with technology and help keep them on your good side. It's not a bribe -- though you could even offer some sort of incentive program within your department to further reduce the cost of hardware.

6: Run contests

Along with the company pricing, you can run contests throughout the year where employees can win prizes. Give away tablets, days off, etc. The contests can even be work-related (who gets the most end-user compliments or which employee solved the most complicated issue this quarter). Just make sure these contests are fair and that it doesn't look like you're playing favorites with certain members of the staff.

7: Offer positive encouragement

If you constantly berate your employees, they will begin to fill with resentment and anger. Although you don't want to create an environment where "Everyone gets a trophy," you certainly want to make sure you voice praise -- not only privately, but publicly. Staff meetings are a great time to pat employees on the back.

8: Establish clear systems and guidelines

If you run your department with a chaotic rule, that chaos will come back to bite you. Although there are (as always) exceptions to the rule, people need boundaries. But you can't just have these boundaries seem random or favor certain employees. Make sure your rules and regulations are fair and consistent. When employees see the guidelines are clear cut (and equitable) they will more easily follow them. Neglect those rules and chaos will reign.

9: Have their backs

There may be times when employees go up against upper management or even end users. When this happens (and when the situation warrants), make sure your employees know you have their backs. If you sit idly by while an employee is unfairly called on the carpet, that employee will quickly resent you and see you as a weak leader. This doesn't mean you should stick your neck out to the point where your own head could get lopped off. Do this intelligently, and your employees will show you the same loyalty in return.

10: Hand out consistent promotions

Promotions are a crucial aspect of employee retention. Without the hope that there is something to shoot for, employees simply won't shoot for anything. Promotions can come in many forms: monetary raises, vacation days, an office, management of a small group, etc. What is critical with promotions is that there are clear-cut guidelines for them. Otherwise, it may appear that favoritism is in play.

Other approaches?

It doesn't really take all that much to ensure your employees remain loyal to you and your department/company. Just taking one or more of the steps above will do more than you can imagine to raise retention. Ignore these types of strategies and you might find yourself having to search out new staff more often than you care for.

How do you attract, retain, and motivate employees? Share your suggestions and experiences with fellow TechRepublic members.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

52 comments
mike-022
mike-022

I agree in that way you can have a good relation with your IT stuff.In Finland there are many professional IT and all of them are loyal and i think it is because of proper treating them as an professional employee.In part of Helsinki i seen a IT that specializing most of microsoft dynamics crm at http://www.mepco.fi/ and the fact that they are doing well is because of good management to them of the company.

net.minder
net.minder

... but they can't walk the walk. They give all of these ideas lip service, but they virtually never do any of it. What little there was dried up during the GFC. The last time the company ante'd up to train me was 2006. Now, they're outsourcing whole IT groups to companies in India. But they're also emphatically denying that there is any intention of doing any more of that. I know my little group will go onto the chopping block eventually. I can't get approval to take my group out to lunch any more, because of the cost. I told them even Subway would be okay, but it's a big fat no. I've been advising my daughters' friends to stay away from IT. No fun anymore.

russoisraeli
russoisraeli

11) Allow and promote freedom of work at preferred times, and locations Most of the typical IT staff are professionals. They are not union custodians. Ditch the time swiping cards. Allow working at random times, and from various locations. Do not count hours. Professional IT people often work off hours and additional hours for no additional pay, so counting their work hours is nothing more than an insult. Nothing encourages more than allowing them to work from freaking Tibet at 2am, as long as they are productive. Some people hate the "office space" environment and accomplish 3 times as much from their dark basement. Some people will waste several hours in the morning trying to wake up, when they could have instead worked late hours. 12) Minimize meetings. Meetings are not only time killers; they're also a blast from the past when you had to seat through a boring lesson in school, except that now you cannot fall asleep. Increase the "optional" participants and decrease "required" participants on your meeting invites. 13) Tell your MBA's to STOP MICROMANAGING. IT professionals are professionals for a reason, and they often know much more than your MBA middle manager. Requiring your staff to do something in a way that someone who doesn't know half of what they know is insulting and it kills productivity. If you have staff that NEEDS to be micromanaged to accomplish something, you need to fire these people. Set goals, general tasks and due dates. Allow your staff to do the rest.

jrcochrane256
jrcochrane256

#1 is compensate fairly #2 is don't be a doosh. #3 is when you assign work to someone, get out of their way and let them do it. It's not the most polished way of saying it, but any manager who doesn't already know what does and does not constitute "being a doosh" is incompetent to manage. It is impossible to get a grown man or grown woman who is a doosh to quit being a doosh by explaining anything to them or by communicating with them. Dooshiness in teenagers can frequently be trained out. Curing dooshiness in adults requires an Act of God.

kitekrazy
kitekrazy

Funny how incompetent management survives longer than incompetent employees.

bharatgodha
bharatgodha

Compensate employee for continuing eduction helps to keep themselves current within their field of expertise. Subscription to onlines books services is another way to achieve the same to some extend. Positive encouragement and establishing clear guidelines and systems creates a healthy working environment. I think, item # 10 helps however for short term, but something that always work. Additional things that can help reduce work pressure by putting appropriate process and checks in place, listen to and allocate appropriate resources to the project.

Not~SpamR
Not~SpamR

I worked for a company some years back that paid half my personal mobile phone bill in exchange for being on call to a reasonable extent at reasonable times. I trusted my manager so was happy with this concept of "reasonable" and since being called was rare it was effectively a bit of free money - all we had to do was submit a copy of the bill and a form. Then we got a new head of department who wouldn't pay the bills unless he saw a fully itemised bill. Needless to say many of us didn't want to let him see who we were calling so we just stopped claiming, making it clear why we weren't claiming and also that if they weren't paying the money we didn't expect to be called out of hours on our private cellphones. Odd that the company was so willing to give up that rather valuable fallback option for the sake of about $30/month, but there you go. At a stroke the morale that was already struggling took another dive.

mongocrush
mongocrush

Sometimes it just the Manager that needs to find another job to keep people from jumping ship. We had a manager that would micro-manage and would call us into his office for a "talking too" just because he could. He didn't understand what was wrong with us, and why we weren't doing everything that he hasn't even thought of yet. He even hired a psychologist for several all-day group sessions which he got his boss to come to as well. These sessions didn't go the way he wanted though because it was found out that all the problems were being caused by him. After those sessions he was confused to why we weren't fixed. I was the first that left, and about half way through the mass exodus he found another job elsewhere. I heard that it's a nicer place now, not perfect because IT is now thought of as being problem children.

geffert
geffert

Understand them, their families, what affects their lives. Try and have empathy for their needs. I am not advocating being their BFF, as that tack usually will fail. Just pay attention, the same way you would one of your own family members. I always have treated the people who work for me, and the people I support as "mine". In doing this I take of what is mine and make sure they are well, happy and most of all challenged. A bored employee is a poor employee. I pass out as much responsibility as I am able, and with that responsibility comes accountability - NEVER take credit for doing what one of your people did - take credit for guidance, but they did the work, make sure the world knows that when asked...

settle.g
settle.g

Recognize & Reward goes a long way toward keeping staff. Management often hijacks credit for IT's hard work. Stop that! If YOU didn't do it, stop taking credit for it. Reward, money, cash, long-green, etc, means a lot of everyone. Share it. The old addage, "Money talks, bullshit walks" is as true today as it ever was. Most companies are directly responsible for their employees leaving. Also, employees SHOULD leave when opportunity knocks. Loyalty means nothing. Remember employees, you're building someone else's dream by being an employee, not YOUR dream!

Odipides
Odipides

That seems to be the battle cry in a lot of companies these days. In other words, we can employ complete morons as long as we write the rules down. Initiative and/or pro-activity = grounds for dismissal So, when someone employed in such an establishment pulls the pin, their managers firmly believe they can just get another chimp in. Sadly, many of these pointy-haired half-wits think this applies to high-level technical staff too.

clandress
clandress

I've worked in a lot of shops where the managers didn't stand behind the techs. It is really difficult to work when your managers are letting the users run over the techs with petty (and non-petty) demands. The users rarely realize that petty demands get in the way of techs meeting deadlines and then they hammer both management and techs when deadlines are missed. Standing behind your employees can make up for the other things being substandard. The very best places I've worked protected techs from unruly and sometimes downright abusive users. By doing this you not only help the techs do their jobs and keep up their morale but you also improve relations with the users.

chuck.the.nerd
chuck.the.nerd

One of my worst managers ever marked me down in a quarterly review as "Does Not Meet Expectations". Quite a surprise to me. Maybe if she had taken the time to actually meet with me once in a one-on-one meeting at all during the quarter, that information could have been conveyed and I could have taken action to address the issue. Lesson learned - don't expect management to lead. Over-communicate with management whenever possible, and flee bad management. If possible, seek out the data from HR or others which indicates which managers have high turnover rates.

ken
ken

When I first took over as IT manager at a publishing company with a LOT of home-grown software I was appalled to learn that the goto guy had never had a vacation, even his HONEYMOON, where the company didn't call him for tech support - often multiple times per day. And most of the staff felt comfortable calling him, not just one or two managers. When he scheduled his first vacation I promised him that nobody would call him except me - and then only in an extreme emergency. I told my fellow managers a week in advance that my guy was going on vacation and absolutely *nobody* was to call him. Of course we had a glitch or two but either I did the troubleshooting/repair or the other manager and I would agree that it could wait a few days. Not only was my staff member shocked and surprised that I kept my word and left him alone but his wife was extra happy, too. This one policy boosted his morale more than pretty much anything else I could have given him - and I could implement it solely on my own authority, unlike giving a raise or a promotion. And the company benefited, too, when I convinced him that writing good code that handled error situations gracefully would pretty much guarantee that he'd never get called on vacation. Prior to that he was kind of sloppy.

chiponium
chiponium

Smaller private companies are unwilling to keep their staff well trained. Noticing trend is that in this economy in rural parts of the country, they rarely get promotions, much less training and are treated as if they are lucky to have a job. IT folks need constant challenge. Finding creative ways to keep your developers engaged is the key. Offer praise, online help tutorials that you come across, and help build the morale in your department by listening. Even when upper management may not have a budget to help train, there are many different ways an effective manager can step in and fill in the gap.

Twoshadows
Twoshadows

These suggestions work well, with variations, for other employees as well. I am upper management and it's important to me that all my employees work well. The best thing I can hear is when an employee comes in the door in the morning smiling and saying they enjoy coming to work. We encourage our employees to bring things to our attention. They are not afraid to come to us and we have made changes based on their suggestion and let all the employees know. We're lucky that our employees know everyone on the board, and vice versa. I enjoy going to work too. Great job and the best employees we could have.

Suresh Mukhi
Suresh Mukhi

Whenever I read these "10 things" blogs that are supposed to be for IT staff such as "10 things to keep your IT staff motivated" or "10 things to keep your IT staff from Burning Out", I find that these 10 things apply to ALL jobs and not just IT. Why put the "IT staff" in the title? When I read it, I expect something specifically that applied to IT and not general purpose advice. Sure it helps, but a little honesty in the blog title would help.

tbmay
tbmay

...companies even care if people stay. There is a lot of empirical evidence, and some managers out and out admit, that many not only don't care, but have found a revolving door suits them better. I don't know if that trend will continue, but I suspect it will. Unfortunately we're still thinking as if it's still the 70's, and I'm afraid a lot of good people will struggle because they haven't gotten out of hat mindset.

jev.case-24297005939114168965253281161338
jev.case-24297005939114168965253281161338

The company I work for does not do 1-3 or 7-10. I think they take management tips from Machiavelli. I am not sure if they did all those things if I would want to stay but doing the opposite does drive people away, it does for me at least.

Lost_in_NY
Lost_in_NY

You've got to be kidding - all the ones I was forced to participate in when I worked in a traditional corporate environment were excrutiating - either uncomfortable psuedo-group therapy crap or outdoorsy stuff that involved heights, bugs and other unpleasantness. Bad enough when they hold them during regular work hours - the work doesn't stop piling up and the project deadlines don't get changed...but worst is when they'd have them out of regular work hours - sure there have been folks I have out-of-work friendships with but don't try and force me to spend time with people that aren't my friend on MY time. Free lunch is good as long as I can grab it and get back to my work so I can leave in time to join my family for dinner...don't make me waste an hour making small talk...

ondcross
ondcross

This kind of relates to the attrition remark. Hilarious in the correct(or not so correct context)...

John_LI_IT_Guy
John_LI_IT_Guy

If only our management had a clue. You don't inspire your IT workforce by putting handcuffs on them. We need to be able to do our jobs. Too much segmentation and finger pointing between groups with different roles. It's always the other groups fault. Oh by the way threatening folks is not a management technique. You want to retain staff? How about offering tuition reimbursement or having CBT's available? Between Microsoft and Cisco coming out with new technologies every couple of years who can afford the training classes and test prep materials to keep up with the certs. The vendors are laughing all the way to the bank.

a.portman
a.portman

[b]You want people to stay, pay them. [/b]Oh, meaningful training reimbursement is nice too. I work in education. Continuing education is "important." That is until some people see what IT courses cost. One place I worked offered $100.00 a year for IT training. The course I wanted, $4,000. They were not happy when I said the $100 was not worth filling the paper work out for.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

10 crappy management gimmicks would be a better title. Given the salary is reasonable for the market, concentrate on these two. Autonomy not having a wholly technical decisions taken out of our hands. It's say some time per week to work on projects you or your team believe will show benefit. It's a free week where despite beam counter missgivings, we get to iron out irritating bugs, refactor bad routines, try a new tech, innovate something. The other human given that just fits in with IT psyche is mastery. That's not simply being trained or training, it's using that training, and for something real. Without the above everything else, including pay rises and bonuses is wasted. Well Tony you could leave, and get a payrise, a new challenge, maybe just maybe get a bit of autonomy, may be use some of your skills doing interesting things. But here you can choose what color shirt you can wear to a training course of stuff we aren't going to let you use! ooh lets see, let me think, that's a toughy. Google say Danny Pink on motivation and look up human givens. This is dated crap thought up by people who dont have clue one about IT people.

jelabarre
jelabarre

There are some companies (such as IBM) that *want* people to leave, just so they can continue to reduce their (non-upper-management) workforce to zero.

Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy

I can't count the number of chestnuts I've pulled out of the fire [b]after[/b] one of my staff has gone around me and [i]displeased[/i] someone in the management chain. Even so it was worth the extra effort to have an intelligent and autonomous frontline force that could handle problems in a nimble fashion. :)

jkameleon
jkameleon

In this economy? You gotta be kidding.

TsarNikky
TsarNikky

As an expansion of #1, make sure employees have significant and usable time "off the clock," i.e., not on call. They DO have a life outside of the company, such as family, friends, and personal interests.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Is the way that incompetent Managers cause so many of the competent workers to walk out the door and never look back. They then get a promotion for cutting down the expenses as the weekly wages are now lower but they are not around long enough to see the standards fall so that the company can achieve very little of what they want. That's the next guys problem to solve. Col

eaglewolf
eaglewolf

Continuing education has some serious drawbacks. In some IT arenas the pace of change is so fast that CE classes are no longer valid at the time they're taught. And if you have instructors who, themselves, are not totally current in the field, the class is useless. In my former CE instructor days, I'd re-write entire sections of the provided material. I'd then tell my students what I was handing them was also subject to change and it was their responsibility to be aware of that, implement it, and not be complacent. There were also open Q&A sessions - and brainstorming. It got the students *thinking* and involved. But if you're also FT employed, re-writing material prior to each class (for example, each quarter) is not an option. And books? The same issue - outdated before they're published. A much better option is to use tech blogs done by the active, and expert, researchers working in the field and that are maintained daily. An advantage to that is being able to search the archives and note not only the trends, but the analysis that went into finding them and accomodating them into current operations.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

by $360 per employee per annum, that's promotion and bonus territory. Okay is was a short term saving but hey he can blame the poor booger who comes in next when he climbs the next rung of the ladder.

Sensei Humor
Sensei Humor

Management comes in two styles. Either they shield you from the rain of garbage piped down from upper management so that you can do your job, or they pass every little piece of trash on down to the people trying to work because they (your manager) don't want to deal with it. Which manager do YOU work for?

jonasdurst
jonasdurst

I agree, 100 is not worth the time. You are right to say it's now worth filling out the paper work because the won't buy you anything but a book or two.

TechRepublic
TechRepublic

I had a lot of hope for this article, but I jumped the shark at #4: Here's why... Tony, you correctly identified the key to keeping quality people with motivation, and the best in the business at speaking on the topic currently is Dan Pink. His message is very clear on the topic. #1 Must compensate fairly. This is the foundation and I actually don't think he gives enough time to this point in his lectures and writings. Without this, the rest is pretty irrelevant. After the foundation of fair compensation is in place, a thought worker must have and feel they have autonomy, mastery, and purpose. These items were kinda covered in the first three items in the list, and the author probably should have stopped there (but they paid me for 10 items). Once you start talking about "Have an outing" or "Hawaiian Shirt Day", these are cheap, hokey activities that don't strengthen motivation. Connect your people to the core purpose of the organization, give them the tools and skills to master their responsibilities, and give them the space to innovate. Easy. Do it corporate America. Now. Seriously.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Only three MBAs with delusions of competence, figured out the voting buttons.

a.portman
a.portman

Some places it is better to jump than wait to be pushed overboard. After you get laid off once or twice, you never stop looking for your next employer. I know someone who went 5 years without a raise. He did have three new jobs with better pay than the one he left.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

It's a very pertinent point at the moment. Fear plays way bigger part in employee retention than loyalty. In fact it's bascally fear that killed loyalty employee to employer and vice versa. Does the guy come across a bit negative, well yes. Is it sometimes irritating, well yes. Is`he wrong... Not hardly, for large number of people. Say why you are downvoting. You can use an use an alias, if you find him a bit scary. Grow some sphericals.

albertalbs
albertalbs

It is simple and easy to be a Good CEO/Director to keep your resources being with you. It needs investments and well as maintenance. 1) Follow all the above 10 points. 2) Pay More – Credit the salary on time - 1st and top most priority. 3) Never ever allow internal politics. (Invisibly internal politics will hurt your business) 4) No partiality between manager and normal employee. If you do, you can't expect good productivity. 5) Don't spy on your employees using their co-workers. 6) Just apply all the above factors to yourself and you can find the ups and downs on it. That is easy. For this you need to become a employee not as being a CEO/CFO/Director. I agree with @Charles Bundy and @TsarNikky points too.

Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy

wanting me to send out one of my techs to a site. After a bit of questioning my determination was that it would be a fruitless waste of time. Upper management was insistent, so I said I would go to the site. Much stammering ensued and the response was [i]why don't you send one of your folks?[/i] My response was that it was Christmas eve and they deserved time with their families...

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

instead of more concrete rewards. It's that you are going to get the opportunity to apply it. New tools in the job, new skills to apply for promotion etc. If that doesn't happen which is likely when this option is presented as an alternative to remuneration, you leave anyway. Educated out of the job through an implicit expectation. So if you are as an employer going to go down this route, you must allow it to be applied, and reward the results accordingly. Now if you want to provide me with learning opportunities that are related to my personal interests as opposed to yours, that's a different ball game.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

and getting paid certainly meets some fundamentals ones. Gimmicks I have no time for, first recourse for lame incompetents with nothing to offer.

Odipides
Odipides

If someone says this in an interview, remember an urgent pencil-sharpening appointment. If they aren't interested in their own money, they sure as hell couldn't give a rat's ass about the company's.

jkameleon
jkameleon

If at all possible, I'm working 2 jobs- not because of lack of money, but because I'm well over 50 old. I'm well aware, that once I'm stuck without job, writing resumes, and sending them into the black hole, it will be all over for me. If I get pushed overboard, I need a lifeboat ready. That doesn't mean I'm gonna jump, myself, though, without getting that severance package. Anyway... employer can either push employees overboard, or try to retain them. It makes no sense to do both things at once.

jkameleon
jkameleon

You mean that plus, minus, and number on the upper right of the post? Don't look at me, I never vote on forums. A matter of principle. If I disagree with something, I don't click but write. Loyalty was not killed by fear, but economically reasonable behavior. Global capital created the workforce by its own image. Loyalty is not given, nor expected by anyone anymore. If there is no job security, there can be no loyalty, job market works both ways.

geffert
geffert

I did this every holiday, I manned the phones and my people went home to their families - my turnover at a tier 1 HD was around 1 per year.

a.portman
a.portman

They would probably kill for you.

Jaqui
Jaqui

are you sure they are MBAs and not CMAs? beancounters have no use for anything but running the accounting department.

tbmay
tbmay

"Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."

jkameleon
jkameleon

Nothing else. The reason why they talk about loyalty, engagement, etc is to extract that extra mile out of you for the same salary. To me, loyalty to the company was mentioned only once, back in communist times, by director of human resources with American degree in management. Me and a couple of colleagues established our own company, and left the very same month. In the 1980s, that was pretty easy. Number 3 is usually used to rouse and eliminate the disengaged employees.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

it was fear of economically reasonable behaviour then. :D A subjective estimation at best, when viewed in the long term. Other than that when a corporate talks about loyalty, I make immediate plans to leave, on account of 1) they think I'm stupid, and 2) They are about to do me up the back. In fact staff retention tip number 3, don't try and play that card, employers wiped their arse with it, the day they hung the Tolpuddle martyrs.

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