Top technologists have job options: 5 tips for retention

IT leaders suggest getting to know each employee personally and customizing opportunities for flexibility, growth, and wellness.

Top technologists have job options: 5 tips for retention

Developers, test automation engineers, site reliability engineers, and other technologists have more employment options today than ever before. Although there’s been a battle for talent for more than a decade, technologists can now seek remote work options well beyond commuting distances and may not have to relocate for new job opportunities.

In one recent study, “Leveling the Playing Field in the Hybrid Workplace,” 58% of knowledge workers who work with data, analyze information, or think creatively are likely to look for a new job during the year. This number increases to 72% for workers who are dissatisfied with their current level of flexibility. 

Anyone in executive leadership, a managerial job function, or team leadership must acknowledge the risks of losing teammates and take steps to retain key people.

I recently moderated a SINC Southeast panel of IT leaders on talent acquisition, diversity, and retention. During the six roundtable discussions, leaders reviewed all three challenges, but the key issue was retaining technologists. When I asked people in the room who was hiring, just about all the IT leaders raised their hands.  

The panelists shared several good ideas that you should consider for your teams and organizations.

Learn how people prefer to work

In a previous article, I shared insights on hiring and retaining developers in a hybrid work model and recommended taking steps to build trust, improve communications, support diversity, and promote work-life balance.

IT leaders felt they had a strong partnership with HR and executives to create policies to provide work flexibility, but there was a split on how companies plan to support hybrid work. Some businesses plan to support hybrid work permanently, others want people back in the office, and some are slowly transitioning from remote to in-person models.

IT leaders may have a voice in these policies, but regardless, they still have to personalize their management approaches with people on their teams. Leaders of large IT teams are surveying their team members to identify common patterns, but all are stepping up efforts to learn about individual needs. If the business supports hybrid work options, ask people about their in-person work preferences:

  • Some employees need flexible hours to attend to family matters.
  • Many want to turn off notifications in tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams during certain periods so they can concentrate on their work with fewer interruptions.
  • Some are hoping to reduce commute times or accommodate other personal factors.

Since working conditions are likely to change during the next year, IT leaders acknowledged the importance of learning best practices. For example, this Harvard Business Review article “How to Do Hybrid Right” recommends learning about individual productivity drivers, when people are most energetic, and when to schedule coordination events. Also, when hybrid work is an option, team leaders should consider which variation of the hybrid model works best for their teams and aligns with policies.  

Develop leadership skills through apprenticeships

One IT leader shared an apprenticeship model that her organization offers to new hires. It’s a three-year program for people to learn new skills and try working in different IT functional areas. After they complete the apprenticeship requirements, participants receive a 15% salary increase.

I like this approach because it can also benefit the technologists and leaders who volunteer to be mentors or fulfill other roles in the program. It demonstrates a commitment to the organization’s future and to new employees who are vital in transforming to new ways of working. The best apprenticeships are also bidirectional learning models: Apprentices learn skills and business acumen, and mentors learn what mentees want and need to be successful.

Reduce meetings and create meeting-free periods

At the conference, only a few people said their organizations were willing to create no-meeting Fridays or other blocks of time to help employees focus on their work free from distractions. Specifying a meeting-free time period may be impractical in many businesses, but is it unrealistic for every employee to personalize a four-hour no-meeting block on their weekly calendars? Is it impossible for leaders and managers to respect this time block?

Keep in mind that meeting leaders have the option to record meetings and create transcripts. If someone can’t attend, there are options to watch recordings and follow up afterward.

Another option is to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of meetings. I offer several recommendations in previous articles on improving agile meetings and documenting agile meeting notes.

Lead by example in social good and wellness programs

During the past couple of years, most organizations realized the importance of restating their missions beyond their customers, products, and services. Some companies have been recognized for their social good programs and others for their wellness programs.

IT leaders at the forum acknowledged that having these programs is just a start; it’s up to leaders to engage in them and lead by example. Participating in social good and wellness programs is a way to foster community and belonging with the staff, and the bonding can help retain employees who want more from their employers than just a job.

Find ways for people to pursue their passions

The IT leaders on the panel agreed that it’s most important to learn people’s interests and passions. Many organizations have more work to assign than employees, so although priorities are set by business needs and strategy, leaders shape how much work their teams take on. Top leaders recognize a force multiplier by assigning people and creating diverse teams based on what drives and motivates them.

Leaders and managers must have frequent dialogues with their staff to learn their interests, what work they enjoy, and the development opportunities they might like. When technologists know their leaders understand their goals and motivations, they’re more likely to bring their A game to assignments that match their interests. They are also more likely to look beyond times when the work is less interesting, knowing that their leaders will likely find better opportunities in the future.

Leaders who support self-organizing practices, experimentation, and learning can build lasting camaraderie. Panelists shared several stories about how some of their employees left the company only to return soon after because they missed working in a more collaborative culture. People want leadership and freedom to get their work done and will avoid command-and-control cultures or poor managers. There are ways to lead people and teams without micromanaging them.

The bottom line is that employees have choices. Recruitment may start during the hiring process, but top leaders recognize that retaining longer-term employees is an ongoing responsibility.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.