Low-cost Employee Retention Strategies

By Katherine Spencer Lee

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While economic conditions may be uncertain, demand for skilled IT professionals remains strong. Those who can provide essential services – such as Web 2.0 development and networking, for example – are in particularly strong demand as companies shift greater effort toward improving customer service levels. This competition for top talent means that if your employees aren’t satisfied in their positions, it’s likely they may seek job opportunities at other firms, making retention a critical issue.

Although budgets are tight, there are still effective ways to keep your staff happy. While it’s crucial to evaluate compensation levels regularly and pay competitively, you can keep your employees engaged using other strategies. Here are some ideas to consider:

Keep in touch

It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day business of running an IT department and not give adequate attention to ongoing communication with employees. Don’t wait until performance reviews to talk to your staff about their prospects at your organization or assume that they know they’re candidates for promotions. “Sell” people on the benefits of staying with your company.

Meet with those on your team regularly to discuss what they like most about their work as well as their greatest challenges, and what they’d like to be doing at your firm a year from now. What are their longer-range goals? You may not be able to promise someone a move into the executive wing, for instance, but you can give him or her an idea of what it takes to advance and how you will support his or her career goals.

Then provide the guidance and education your employees need to achieve their objectives. Offering professional development or training was rated as the second most effective tool in improving IT staff retention among chief information officers (CIOs) in a recent survey by Robert Half Technology, with increased compensation finishing slightly ahead.

Encourage work/life balance

When our company and CareerBuilder.com polled workers and asked which benefits might encourage them to choose one job over another, the top response was flexible work arrangements. Professionals at all points in their careers are striving to find greater work/life balance and if you can provide them with assistance, you’ll promote loyalty.

It’s important to customize your work/life balance programs to suit both your company and employees. In IT, it may not be realistic to give everyone alternative work hours, since you need some employees on-site during certain times of the day to help particular groups, such as end-users or remote personnel. Set some ground rules for the arrangements so people feel the program is applied fairly throughout the department. Also, consider offering different options to your staff so that your program is more meaningful to each individual. One employee may like the opportunity to telecommute periodically while another may prefer the ability to start and end the work day earlier, for instance.

Postpone the retirement parties

In addition, take a look at what your firm is doing to retain its most experienced employees. Retirement doesn’t have to mean you lose your tenured staff – and their valued expertise and knowledge – abruptly. In fact, in a survey by our company, only one in three workers (34 percent) said they plan to quit work entirely once they’re ready to retire. Many want to try something else, such as changing professional fields or working as a consultant. Is your company ready to embrace these interests?You may find that you can retain retirement-age employees by offering them different employment options other than full-time jobs. For instance, you might allow them to work part-time, lead training programs or return to your group to consult on special projects.

Build a buddy system

Mentoring is another great retention tool. Employees want to know their employers care about their professional development, and by giving them a support system, you help them succeed in their jobs. Mentors can be assigned to assist new hires and junior staff, but keep in mind that they’re also valuable for more experienced IT professionals, who may benefit from guidance in such areas as management techniques, budgeting and advanced technologies.

Just be sure that you partner employees who are compatible and that the mentors you select have the time to commit to the program. Then establish some basic guidelines for the mentoring relationship to ensure everyone is satisfied with the arrangement.

Keeping employees happy doesn’t have to break the bank. The key is to see your staff as individuals and customize your retention efforts so they’re meaningful. For example, tickets to a local football game aren’t very rewarding if no one in your group is a football fan. Consider surveying your employees periodically to find out what types of benefits and programs they’d like your firm to add. You’ll encourage your top performers to turn a deaf ear when the competition calls.

Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals for initiatives ranging from e-business development and multiplatform systems integration to network security and technical support. The company has more than 100 locations worldwide and offers online job search services at www.rht.com.