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Katherine Spencer LeeKeeping Your Best People
by Katherine Spencer Lee
Contributed by RHIConsulting

Read more articles by Katherine Spencer Lee

As demand continues to be strong for skilled IT professionals, companies are finding it increasingly difficult to retain valued employees. Even if your workers are not actively seeking employment elsewhere, they may be the subjects of your competitors' intensive recruiting efforts. The more highly prized your employee, the more likely they are to have shown up on a headhunter's radar screen.

Most companies rely primarily on salary and benefits as a first line of defense to prevent employees from being recruited away. However, studies of employee attitudes suggest that additional factors — from technical skills training to praise and recognition — may be even more important than compensation in determining job satisfaction among IT professionals.

It is essential to remember that most employees, for reasons ranging from security to family to location, would much prefer to stay on the job rather than seek employment elsewhere. Maximizing their satisfaction at work will help valued staff remain under your roof.

Focus on Training
Let your people know they matter
Perks: Extras that make a difference
Preventative measures

Focus on Training
When CIOs were asked in an independent survey by RHI Consulting to choose the single factor, other than compensation, that helped a manager retain IT talent, ongoing technical skills training ranked first. Skills training gives employees the opportunity to advance in salary and rank by increasing their capacity to handle new and different kinds of projects. There is also a sense of accomplishment attained by expanding one's skill set.

Today's IT professionals must keep their technical knowledge current to keep up with the rapid pace of technological advancements. You can help keep their skills up to date either through participation in pilot projects, new system implementations or through formal training.

It is essential, however, to link training to business goals. Making the curriculum applicable to the bottom line is a source of motivation, and you'll ensure that employees get the chance to reinforce what they've learned by applying it to real-world situations. And if you conduct rigorous needs assessments at least once a year, you'll be able to determine what types of material will make the most impact on business success.

Consider reimbursing employees for work-related training — you will instill loyalty in your staff while improving and expanding their skills base. At the same time, you will be making an active investment in your workers' productivity.

Let your people know they matter
Often times, well-deserved praise, given on a consistent basis, can be as valuable as a raise. In many IT departments, heavy workloads can make employees feel under-appreciated, overworked and isolated from the corporate mainstream. While salary increases might boost morale in such a situation, recognition of your team's hard work is oftentimes just as impactful.

When you observe or find that employees are performing exceptionally well, reward them: upgrade their functions, give them incentives, perks and special bonuses. Never lose sight of the fact that it is tough to find well motivated, hardworking employees.

Another way to reward your staff's accomplishments is through promotions. Promoting from within isn't always easy, but many departments that keep their turnover manageable make it a practice to consider advancing present employees before they seek outsiders for open positions. Even if the promotion is in name only, it may prove beneficial — titles give a sense of belonging that boosts both self-esteem and morale.

Passing over your own staff to bring in someone new almost invariably erodes morale. If the opportunity for advancement is not available, employees will seek to advance their careers elsewhere.

You may temper your praise with constructive criticism, but be sure that your comments are appropriate — surveys show that criticizing a subordinate in front of others is considered to be the worst breach of business etiquette. And don't forget the little courtesies. A "good morning," a "thank you," or an encouraging e-mail message can go a long way in keeping your best people. Show employees you care by sending birthday cards, initiating employee social activities and setting up recognition programs for proven performers.

Including IT staff in meetings where their efforts will or have impacted key company initiatives is another way to make them feel like a valued member of the organization.

Perks: Extras that make a difference
You can make working at your company even more desirable by offering employees perks -- extras that aren't included as part of the standard compensation package. Perks don't have to be expensive -- here's a list of benefits that cost little or nothing:

  • Desirable assignments
  • Public recognition
  • Small gifts for special occasions (birthdays, weddings, etc.)
  • Tickets to sporting events and shows
  • Adequate staffing, including contract help during busy times
  • Opportunities for telecommuting
  • Flexible work schedules
  • Personal notes for achievements

    These little bonuses let your employees know that their contributions are valued and that your company cares about their quality of life.

    Preventative measures
    If your best IT employees are valuable to you, they can be just as valuable to another firm. An independent workplace study conducted by our company shows that when an employee is recruited away from one company to another, 70 percent of the time, management regrets losing the employee. It's no mystery then why businesses should take steps to prevent recruitment from their ranks.

    Rewarding supervisors and managers who keep their most valuable employees on staff can be an effective way to reduce costly turnover. Companies might also consider mentoring their top employees, grooming them for positions of leadership within the organization. Allow for mentoring and networking opportunities with senior executives — the mentor's function is to help the employee in those areas where support is needed.

    Turnover within a company is natural, but businesses that succeed know how to keep their most valuable employees. By improving your staff's quality of life, you not only retain your top workers, but you make the office a better place to work — traits that will serve you well when it comes time to do recruiting of your own.

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    Katherine Spencer Lee is the executive director of RHI Consulting, a division of Robert Half International and the industry’s leading provider of project and full-time technical talent for the Internet economy.

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