Congratulations, you created a "DREAM TEAM." Your technologists work together like a well-oiled machine, keeping your company humming and thriving.
And then it happens: dissension. Your team members have grown unhappy and you find out they’re searching for new employment or losing productivity.
What did you do wrong?
Did you hire the wrong people?
Did your company push them away?
Or is it a combination of numerous factors?
In order to retain employees, you must build an environment that fosters loyalty and growth. There are five key areas for which you must apply a certain level of attention if you plan on retaining your tech staff:
Perks of hard work
This guide will break each of these points down so that, in the end, you have the tools you need to make sure your team members don’t seek out greener pastures or lose focus. Let’s begin with the bigger picture.
1. Work environment
One of the biggest problems that plagues technologists is burn out. It's an industry of testing and triage, and when something breaks, you can bet your team is on the call. That can easily lead to over-stressed workers and, ultimately, a mass exodus.
It’s very easy to expect your employees to answer the call “whenever necessary.” It makes sense, especially in certain industries. Your business must run, and run smoothly, which could mean having staff members on the clock after hours and weekends, with 70-80 hour weeks being fairly common. With the recent sharp rise of remote work and employees now constantly within feet of their workspace, this has become an even slipperier slope. If you find yourself making such demands, it’s time to rethink.
Many times these after-hour work binges can be curtailed by simply hiring another staff member. The extra hands and experience will go a long, long way to getting situations under control well before it’s time to start working into the night. Another solution is get really clear on priorities. You may find that incoming requests can wait until morning. Help your team become comfortable with putting work on pause in these non-critical moments.
Of course, overworked staff is not the only issue. The environment, as a whole, needs to also support teamwork and trust. How can a work environment help gain the trust and loyalty of your team?
Prioritize psychological safety
The questions below are not exhaustive, but they serve as a solid starting point for evaluating the emotional wellbeing of your team members. The answers are crucial to creating a positive, productive environment.
A quality work environment doesn’t end at the physical. You have to consider the emotional and psychological as well. Answer these questions:
Does your staff feel free to express themselves?
Do they trust their fellow employees?
Do you run your department with an iron fist?
Are you tolerant to bullying, hazing or hatred?
Does your staff feel they can come to you with issues?
Do they have autonomy and ownership over their work?
Trust is almost tantamount to success. Can you trust they’ll get the job done in a timely fashion? Can they be trusted to work with sensitive data? That’s all obvious. But the need for team members to trust one another isn’t always first to mind when trying to manage a department. A team works very closely with one another and must be able to extend the hand of trust and have it returned. Without that fragile bond, you’ll find team members refusing to work with one another, not sharing tasks (for fear they won’t get done properly) or simply withdrawing into themselves.
This means you must pay close attention when hiring new employees. Make sure to ask yourself if a prospective employee will work well with the current team. You might even consider having your team help vet interviewees to gain insights into their personalities. It’s often most important for the team members who will be working with the candidate to decide if the person will work well on their team.
A few things your team members might want to know of a possible hire:
What makes you panic?
Which character would you be in the “Star Trek" universe and why?
Where do you stand on open source?
If we had to work through the weekend, would it bother you that you couldn’t shower?
Though these questions might venture slightly into the realm of the silly, they can really help you figure out if this prospective hire is a good fit.
Another important rule to remember is this: If you run your department with an iron fist, you will eventually push staff members away. You cannot be inflexible and expect any sort of loyalty. There’s a vast amount of work out there for technologists. If they don’t like where they work, they can easily find another gig. So leading your team with a rigid rule of law will only drive those staff members to jobs where they have more flexibility and freedom.
Two areas of flexibility you can easily offer are hours worked and where employees work. You can allow your team members a bit more flexibility in their schedule, especially since some work simply cannot be done during normal work hours. This can lead to such things as split shifts. Also, a lot of the work done in tech can be managed remotely. (And this was proven even more as many people transitioned to a WFH set up during the pandemic.) Allowing your team to telecommute some or all of the time will go a long way to making them happy.
There is, however, one area you must rule with an iron-clad gauntlet. Bullying, hazing and hatred have no place, well, anywhere. If you hear of such behaviors, it is your duty to stop them immediately. If those same behaviors continue, action must be taken—even if that means firing the offending team member.
Of course, you may never know of that bullying if your team doesn’t feel like they can come to you with issues. You must foster an environment that tells your team members you have an open door—literally or figuratively. To facilitate this, you might either post specific office hours that are dedicated to team interaction (where team members can Slack you, call you or walk in, unannounced). Without that open door, your team will never trust you or the environment in which they work.
2. Skill development
If there’s one thing that is certain it’s that your technologists want a constant challenge. It’s not enough to be left to the daily grind of develop, deploy and repair. No, your team members want dedicated time to learn new skills. Of course, empowering your team to upskill has direct benefit to your business. It gives them more skills in their quiver and allows them to produce more quickly and efficiently while staying on top of best practices and the latest technologies. But above all, technologists consider formally supported upskilling a solid benefit.
But where do you find upskilling opportunities?
For nearly any major software or platform, you can find a vendor-sponsored certification. There are several online platforms that offer on-demand training as well as traditional classroom-based learning. In larger communities, you’ll find user groups that hold regular meetings and often help connect their members to training.
The dollars you spend on employee development will go a long way to ensure retention. If you invest in them, they will invest in you.
Technology Skill Development is the strategy you need
Upskilling is great. Technology Skill Development (TSD) is best. It’s the most efficient strategy for developing the technology skills your organization needs to drive business outcomes—with confidence and predictability, with less effort and in less time. It takes your investment in your employees and expands the benefits far beyond retention.
Your team wants to be an integral part of the business. They want to see how they support and make a direct impact on the organization’s goals. With TSD, you can align your team’s skills to business needs and give your team members visibility into how their skills impact the business.
Part of what makes learning new skills exciting for your team is having the autonomy to learn what they want. TSD is not top-down. Your team members have a solid grasp of what technologies are best to help the business meet certain objectives. Tap into it. TSD unlocks that knowledge by giving team members a seat at the table. By giving them a chance to direct their upskilling in a way that aligns with business objectives, you create a path to gain the technology skills you need to innovate and disrupt the market, keeping your employees engaged and fulfilled.
3. Hardware/software purchasing programs
Purchasing programs are an outstanding way to prove your dedication to your staff. These types of programs allow your staff to purchase hardware, software and other goods through channels they may not have access to outside of work. For example, the Los Angeles Unified School District offers their employees the ability to purchase products at reduced costs from companies like:
Think about it: Your technologists want a say in the tools they use.. Having the ability to gain access to an employee purchase program (EPP) will go a very long way to making employees happy. Of course, not every company has this option available. If you already have purchasing set up directly through a vendor (such as Dell, Lenovo, LG, Verizon, etc.), you should call those companies to find out if they extend to employee purchasing.
If your company spends a good deal of money with a particular vendor, chances are they might offer such a plan. For the smaller companies, it might behoove you to do a “purchase assistance program,” where you (the employer) will offer to pay a percentage of any piece of technology that will help further the employees skills, even if said technology is used at home.
These types of programs must be regulated and offered with the understanding that products are not to be purchased and re-sold. Extending EPPs beyond technology is yet another way to help gain employee retention. For instance, you could partner with a local gym to give employees free (or greatly reduced) memberships. Ask around, and you’ll be surprised what you come up with.
4. Perks of hard work
Let’s face it, one of the easiest ways to gain loyalty is increasing employees’ salaries. It’s been the “gold standard” for a very long time. At the end of the year, you offer up your employees a standard “cost of living” increase at least and bonuses (often based on productivity or merit). Without this type of incentive, you’d be hard pressed to retain your staff at all. Similarly, refusing to think beyond the “standard” can have the added effect of keeping your company locked into tired ways of thinking. In other words, you won’t grow. Incentives need to stretch beyond the simple. There are plenty of other perks you can offer staff to bolster loyalty. Many of these perks can be given as incentive to work harder, learn more, mentor other staff, etc.
Non-standard perks come in many flavors
Just make sure these perks are actually of value and attainable. Don't dangle a carrot in front of your staff only to have them find out it’s a worthless carrot, you won’t honor that carrot or that carrot is just too hard to reach.
If managed poorly, offering perks can get you into a bit of trouble. What you don’t want to happen is that your employees are only motivated by collecting these perks.
Goals are clear
Perks aren’t handed out randomly
You do not play favorites
To limit the amount of perks an employee can be rewarded in a given period
Offering these rewards allows you to give employee incentives year round (as opposed to the standard end of year bonus/raise). The combination of the two (or three, if you give out both bonuses and raises) would be a serious incentive for your staff to remain on board.
We’ve established the fact that staff like to be challenged, enjoy a purchase (or two), and respond positively to perks. But we’re missing the easiest (and cheapest) means of staff retention: recognition. People want to be recognized for their achievements. Within so many companies it’s easy for successes to fall by the wayside and failures to be brought to light. Although some managers consider that an effective means of keeping staff on their toes and working hard, that method will eventually cause staff loyalty to fade.
When you make a habit of only recognizing failure, you send a clear message to employees that success is only valued as a means to your bottom line. You may think that agenda hidden, but most employees eventually solve that puzzle. When they do, attrition will quickly rise. When a company, from management up, fails to recognize the efforts of those who help build the foundation, the internal fabric begins to rot.
The pat on the back that recognition offers will go a long way to ensure your employees know you see and value everything they do. But don’t think you should just send that employee an email or leave a voice message. Depending on the person and how they react to attention, consider making recognition public. Send out a company-wide email or make announcements of achievements at company meetings.
If you make these recognitions public, your staff will know you “get it.” That connection is crucial, especially within the world of technology. Working with management that doesn't comprehend job challenges is a hard sell to tech elite. That you understand the challenges helps the staff know you will not expect the impossible and that you are aware of the work necessary to complete a task. When you work without such an understanding, you have no idea what should or should not be expected.
But even beyond the expectations, recognizing a job well done is the simplest method of team building. And although many find “Team Member of the Week” awards to be on the cheesy side, they can work, especially if you allow the team members to pick the person instead of management. Just be sure your team doesn’t turn it into a popularity contest, but rather a way to recognize everyone on the team at different points in time.
If you go this route, don't just make an announcement at a weekly meeting. This “achievement” needs to come with an award—even if that award is a goofy plunger painted gold to resemble a statue. This is all about building chemistry between workers and an environment those workers actually want to be involved in for 40-60 hours per week. If, with a simple gesture of recognition, you can give your team something to cheer about, everyone wins.
Show them love and they will stay
Staff retention grows harder and harder with every new generation. With the old tried and true system of incentives not nearly as effective as it once was, it’s time to start thinking beyond the norm. When your staff understands the extent at which you are willing to go to keep them around, they will repay you with hard work and loyalty.
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