IT Turnover: The New Normal - 3 Ways to Keep Your IT Professionals Happy

Posted by Adam Hoffarber on 7/13/17 3:58 PM
Adam Hoffarber
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I follow two studies that explore turnover in the IT world.  The Tech Career Outlook report by Spiceworks, asks IT professionals how they feel about their jobs, workplace satisfaction, salaries and future prospects.  The second, the Tech Leavers Study, conducted by the Kapor Center for Social Impact and supported by the Ford Foundation, begins with this provocative headline:  “Unfairness-based turnover in tech is a $16B a year problem.”

Each report has important, somewhat different, perspectives to share with all of us involved in recruiting, hiring, onboarding – and retaining – top flight IT professionals.  I strongly recommend reading them.  Both provide powerful information on what causes tech staff to start looking for a new job.

I’ll leave it to you to read both reports.  (Brace yourself for some unexpected, surprising, even downright sobering findings.)  In the meantime, consider this:  the Kapor study found that 35% of tech professionals are actively seeking other employment.  Spiceworks cited 45%.

What do those numbers spell out for employers, hiring managers and recruiters?  Opportunity, and lots of it.  But they also point to the IT retention challenges facing so many organizations today.  Turnover always hurts.  In your IT function, it often hurts more.  Finding the perfect combination of required tech skills, learning potential and personality that meshes with the rest of the team is no picnic.  So how can you minimize turnover and keep your top performers happy and onboard?

It’s not that simple.  But by focusing on these three areas, you can start investing in reduced turnover now.


Onboarding:  Make it robust, meaningful and sustained

Have you ever been caught off guard by the rapid departure of an employee – shortly after they enthusiastically accepted your offer?  That’s a sure sign that your onboarding process isn’t matching up to the promises made in your recruiting process.  What can you do to fix that?  First, recognize that onboarding if more than making sure the paperwork is signed and the new hire can find their desk.  It’s about immersing the employee in the very best aspects of your corporate culture and ensuring they feel connected, respected and motivated within your organization.  Make sure they receive clear, positive messages from your senior leadership about your vision and values.  Make sure their first week, first month and even first year on the job include onboarding activities that focus on two-way communication.  This is not, after all, about simly conveying tons of positive messages to your new hires.  It’s about asking how they’re doing, carefully listening to how they respond, and acting on what you learn to improve the new hire experience.


Respect:  Make it your workplace reality

62% of respondents in the Kapor study stated that they would have remained in their previous job if their employer had worked to create a more respectful workplace.  If you’re an employer who has struggled with IT turnover, you would be well served to consider that number.  Consider whether your stated vision and values may not be the everyday experience of every member of your IT team.  Then get to work diagnosing and addressing any fairness or respect issues lurking in your workplace.  Beyond the ongoing, open dialogue I recommended in your onboarding process, use regular anonymous surveys to open up safe channels for reporting incidents of disrespect without fear of consequences.   Regularly look yourself up on employer assessment sites like  Why do people say they left?  Consider going beyond that and surveying former, top performing employees who have left.   Then act on what you learn by changing your hiring and management practices accordingly.


Balance: the key to avoiding burnout

Many IT positions, especially those related to software development, carry demanding, often tedious responsibilities.  It’s constant problem solving, often at an extremely granular level.  And because the nature of the work involves something close to black box operations, the IT team can often feel that they’re carrying the weight of the organization’s future on their shoulders.  Burnout is a growing issue among IT staff.  Often, the reason for leaving is to find a place where there is a healthier sense of work-life balance and, more simply put, fun on the job.  Do you have places in your office and spots on the calendar reserved for relaxing, socializing or gaming during the work day?  Do you have the capacity to create flexible work schedules or even certain work hours from home?  Do you host meetings and social outings that allow people to connect with each other in non-work, no pressure circumstances?  Some of today’s most successful organizations at retaining IT talent offer all of these.  Another critical element to keeping people motivated and engaged instead burning them out is to keep them challenged in ways that help them grow the skills they really want to grow.  You may feel reluctant to to promote a great developer out of fear that you’ll never find anyone to replace them in their current position.  But if you give in to that fear, instead of rewarding them for their great work, you’re punishing them for it.  They’ll still move – but not within your organization.

Some of these recommendations may seem difficult and costly. Maybe you’re even tempted to see them as unnecessary.  If that’s the case, start with the simplest and most necessary step of all.  Talk to your IT staff.  Get to know them, their goals, what they love most about working for you – and what they wish could be improved.  Then do the math on what it would cost you to lose them, replace them and retain the new hire.  It’s probably worth investing in retaining the great ones you already have.


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