What companies are doing to retain IT staff

ITworld.com –

So you want to be a millionaire? Rags-to-riches stories have helped fuel the American economy, so it's no surprise that many IT professionals are reaching for the pot of gold at the end of the Internet rainbow. In a prosperous economy where IT professionals can accumulate wealth, there's renewed interest in having the job fit the person, not the person fit the job. The magnitude of this social change is not unlike that of the Industrial Revolution a hundred years ago, when droves of people moved from farmland to city looking for jobs. Make no mistake: it's still about money.

Even so, people don't leave jobs just because of greed. They might want to remove themselves from having to work alongside a difficult boss or co-worker, or they might feel stagnated in their career. And after all, pay for performance isn't a foolproof way to keep an employee: there's always a limit to how much a company can pay. Companies are quickly realizing that it takes creative strategies to retain IT employees and keep them satisfied.

The new IT workforce is reshaping itself in a way that reflects radical shifts in the workplace. Employers are playing catch-up to the demands of their staffs. "There is a new social paradigm in America about work and how 'employees' see themselves in work and in a company," says H. Michael Boyd, an analyst with IDC in Framingham, Mass.

People are leaving traditional companies such as IBM and GE to work at Internet start-ups knowing both the potential for enormous gain and the risk of walking away with next to nothing. Career consultants maintain that the time is right for both baby boomers and generation Xers to take these risks. Because of a booming market, baby boomer IT professionals have been able to sock away money, allowing them to comfortably assess embarking on a risky venture that could land them millions. Generation Xers, on the other hand, have grown up in a high-demand labor market but have watched as their parents or other family members have been disenfranchised by the corporate structure. Unwilling to trust corporations with their security, generation Xers are more likely than their parents were to leave a traditional employer. "Social change is enabling the baby boomers and generation Xers to move to these dot-com companies," says Boyd. "People are really very comfortable, and they are looking around saying, 'I want some of that wealth.' And they can afford to take some risks."

That sense of adventurousness makes the job of retaining IT employees even more complicated than it was just five years ago. Firms such as Andersen Consulting have responded to the unusual job market circumstances by implementing strategies to prevent workers from jumping ship to a dot-com start-up.

One such plan is changing the employee's compensation package. Andersen Consulting has doubled the number of employees it makes into partners. In addition, the company is also satiating the appetite of valuable employees who might be likely to jump ship for a dot-com start-up by investing in a venture capital fund. In this situation, employees are given ownership shares, so they will have equity before they become partners.

Competition is so fierce in the Silicon Valley that officials from Sun Microsystems wouldn't comment on their strategies to retain IT professionals, nor would representatives of Oracle.

Many businesses have formal strategies to retain IT staff. Some companies scan their staffs every six months to determine whether their top IT talent is thinking of leaving. They analyze a variety of factors: how competitive the salary is, what the working relationship is between employee and manager, whether the employee is working on cutting-edge technology. "Increasingly 'companies' are instituting software programs to identify people who are at risk of leaving," says Elaine Evans, a principal at Towers Perrin, a human resource consultancy firm.

Companies known for being desirable places to work offer training programs and career guidance to keep their employees engaged in the workplace. Some are paying for executive coaches for valued employees who are looking to move up in the organization.

In addition to tried-and-true strategies like flexible work schedules and telecommuting options, some companies are offering even more innovative strategies like customizing the job to fit the individual desires of the employee. "The competitive landscape is that you need to do all of these things and come up with something new. If you don't, then you're not in the game," says IDC's Boyd.

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