IT Leadership is about Motivating Employees in Tough Times

By Dave Willmer

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Having a loyal, motivated team can make all the difference in your company’s ability to not just survive but also succeed. IT leadership plays a key role in making this happen. As the economy improves, it will be critical that your employees are satisfied because the risk of turnover will grow exponentially. In fact, in a recent survey by our firm, 31 percent of CIOs said they are worried about losing top performers to other job opportunities in the next year.

Certainly, no executive sets out to deflate morale and harm employee retention, but there are some common mistakes that can have this effect. What follows are five actions to avoid:

Withholding Information

On the surface, it may seem that not informing staff of bad news is better for morale. However, trying to hide information from your employees can be quite damaging. Chances are, word will leak out about the situation, and rumors may be inaccurate and fuel anxiety.

You may not be able to share the finer details of the closure of two company offices, for instance, but you can let people know what may be ahead from an IT perspective: Will those operations be consolidated within other sites? Who will handle any technology-related responsibilities associated with the transition? How will planned projects in the coming months be affected?

Share what you know and solicit ideas from employees on how to manage any anticipated changes. The more involved people are in developments, the less worried they’ll be about the situation.

Ignoring Signs of Burnout

Many teams are stretched thin and it’s not uncommon for employees to be asked to go full steam for extended periods of time. In these conditions, it’s particularly important to pay attention to the first indicators of burnout so you can take corrective action.

Some signs to watch out for include attendance problems, missed deadlines, irritability and incidents of staff conflict, and an increase in complaints from end users and others in the organization—particularly when the issues are with your best employees. Be willing to reorganize job responsibilities, redistribute work to other employees or provide access to necessary training that will help to alleviate stress and get people back on track. Also make sure that you’re encouraging employees to take breaks and vacation time, and then set the example by doing so yourself.

Failing to Reassess Staff Levels

Many leaders make the mistake of assuming that since they don’t have the budget to hire more employees, there is no need to re-evaluate their personnel situation. Yet, even if you don’t have pressing recruiting demands, you may not be using your staff optimally.

For example, are your employees working in positions that suit their current talents and potential? Someone who has built knowledge in project management through coursework over the past two years might be wasted in a junior role that doesn’t allow him or her to use those skills.

If you aren’t tapping into the potential of your employees, your team may not be as productive as possible. You also could be frustrating employees who long for more challenge or the opportunity to take on new assignments. Ensuring your staff members’ talents and potential align with their responsibilities is key to keeping your team motivated.


Another common mistake is believing it’s good to be a “hands-on” leader who requires updates and approvals on every step of every project. While you may feel you are ensuring work gets done properly, more likely your staff believe you don’t trust them to handle the details of their jobs.

If this sounds like you, it’s critical to step back and give your employees the authority to do their work. This will prevent bottle-necking of projects and allow staff to make progress with their to-do lists. Eliminating your involvement with the finer mechanics of assignments can not only boost morale but also will give you time to focus on more important priorities.

Playing it Safe

Also, make sure that you aren’t stifling creativity and depleting morale by discouraging risk taking. You may not openly tell employees to keep new ideas to themselves, but if you are critical when recommendations fail or take no action on good suggestions, you send the same message.

It can be tempting to go with the status quo—after all, why fix what isn’t broken? However, it’s innovation that can give a firm a competitive edge. Encourage employees not just to think of new technologies that might benefit the company but also to look at processes and business strategies that could be improved. Then, follow through and implement the best ideas. If you can’t move forward with a suggestion, explain why. You’ll show respect for your staff’s expertise, which can be highly motivational.

Finally, remember that one of the easiest ways to boost morale is by offering thanks for a job well done. People want to be appreciated for their contributions, so take the time to give recognition when it’s deserved. A public thank you to the team who stayed late fixing a problem with your company’s website, for instance, can be meaningful when it comes from someone in your position. You’ll help to keep spirits high, even when faced with business challenges.

Dave Willmer is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals for initiatives ranging from e-business development and multi-platform systems integration to network security and technical support. The company has more than 100 locations worldwide.