Prepare now for an employee exodus

There are no huge surprises when it comes to IT pay in Computerworld's Salary Survey this year. Salaries are flat, benefits were reduced, and bonuses were slashed or eliminated. And the Computerworld survey and Yoh's own data show that employees in nearly every vertical industry are reporting that their workloads have increased and their opportunities for training have decreased. But it's the resulting erosion in job satisfaction and morale that might give IT employers an unexpected jolt.

Workers might have been willing to deal with unsatisfactory employment situations during the recession because they feared there were no other options. But now that the economy is starting to turn a corner, a major shift is taking place. Employees are on the move.

Some companies are easing their hiring freezes. New positions are starting to open up, and many employees will be leaping at new and better opportunities. Therefore, employers should expect substantial turnover in 2010.

The talent pool will become more like an ocean, and large, aggressive companies will cast a net into it to snare the best workers. You might think this would hurt smaller companies that can't pay as much as large employers, but there are ways all companies can stem talent and knowledge loss. Here are some approaches:

Develop close relationships with your employees. It's important for managers to build strong ties with their employees no matter how the economy is doing, but it's crucial when times are tough. It helps when managers have open and honest conversations with employees about their job satisfaction. Managers can then understand where employee dissatisfaction lies and position themselves to address it. Close relationships also build trust and can keep employees motivated to support their managers and help the company succeed.

Improve your employment brand. People want a great place to work. The key is to create an atmosphere that motivates, respects, rewards and cultivates the skills and growth of employees. While that was probably difficult to do during the past year, it's crucial that companies don't lose sight of that goal, especially in hard times.

If you want your employees to stay, they need to understand how valuable they are to the organization. Acknowledge their accomplishments, whether in some form of companywide communication or through small perks or gifts.

Give your best talent a promotion or a raise. You probably already know who your rainmakers are. They are the closers, the innovators, the thought leaders, the strategic advisers. And while in theory everyone can be replaced, finding people who can fill the shoes of high-impact employees could prove to be difficult. One of the best ways to retain the stars is to bite the bullet and give them a raise, a bonus, a promotion or some other incentive.

Fill positions now if you anticipate that they will open up later. This approach involves a calculated risk: predicting what your staffing needs will be in the coming year -- whether as a result of turnover, product line expansion or some other event -- and hiring for those positions right away. The advantage is that it shows your employees and the market that you're growing. The downside is that you overspend on staff in the short term. Even worse, if it turns out you've overestimated staffing needs, you might have to downsize.

These strategies can help stem talent and knowledge loss as the economy improves. But employers must decide for themselves which options are right for them.

Adam Lawrence is vice president of service delivery at Yoh, a talent and outsourcing service provider and a unit of Day & Zimmermann. Get the latest on workforce trends at the Yoh blog.

This story, "Prepare now for an employee exodus" was originally published by Computerworld.

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