Reality Bytes

FRAMINGHAM (05/01/2000) - There used to be six of us. And then there was one.

I started at CIO in May 1996 as an editorial assistant. I was 24. Give or take half a year, so did five others, all about the same age and all about the same job levels in a mixture of departments within the company. We all formed a bond--a clique, some other staffers were heard to grumble.

As of today, the other five have left for greener pastures. One web developer went to a startup. One writer went to law school. One editor went to a competing magazine. One marketing person went to a research company. And the other editorial assistant went to another publication owned by our corporate parent. None was fired. None was forced out. None left CIO with a bad taste in his or her mouth. They all just left.

I have been promoted twice and my salary has increased to where I can afford some of life's niceties that I wished I could get while in college--such as something other than pasta for dinner, two-ply toilet paper and a beer whose name doesn't contain the word Milwaukee. I am challenged every day at work, and my boss is the best. I have career goals that I am working toward, and I feel hopeful about my future. Put simply: I'm in my happy place.

WHAT, ME WORRY? YES. But a part of me can't help feeling that I might be missing something by not scanning Monster.com on a daily basis, updating my rsum every Sunday night with the past week's accomplishments or establishing a network of headhunters. Friends and departed colleagues of mine, both in the IT industry and outside, tell me countless stories of companies wanting to interview them for jobs, receiving daily headhunter calls and being offered surprisingly large signing bonuses (and most of them aren't pro baseball players).

These days, it seems that even if you really like your job-- the benefits, the pay, your coworkers, the opportunity for growth--and you do good, management-recognized work, something is probably wrong with you if you've stuck with one company for more than a couple of years. This is my problem. I can't shake the feeling that working at one place for four years is a bad thing.

It's not really my fault, though. After undergoing extensive testing, I learned that I have a rare medical condition called Prematura loyalitas--extreme loyalty to one company at an early age. I took the Myers-Briggs test and came up as an ESTJ, identifying me as a fiercely loyal employee who's conscious of the chain of command. (They told me Harry S. Truman had the same qualities. And Joan Rivers too--can we not talk about this one?) Nevertheless, in today's job market it appears that badges of honor are bestowed on individuals 35 and younger for each company that they tear through.

Loyalty is out; dead presidents are in. The reign of the company as king is over--a new heir has seized the throne, the employee. And maybe that's the way it should be. We all have friends and family who have tested the waters of the job market, are swimming in the green stuff as a result and still have not given some to us less fortunate people who work for a technology publication.

Here at CIO, we even encourage this kind of behavior in our readership. We write about them all the time, usually hailing them as "movers and shakers."

HOT COMMODITIES I know I'm preaching to the choir here--you CIOs and IT hiring managers could sing me the blues on how your good and not-so-good staffers are leaving you on a daily basis. The problem you face, however, is twofold. One, your employees know how hot a commodity they are; and two, there are dozens of IT staffing agencies that are enabling them to fulfill their hotness. (And if I have to hear one more time about how "freakin' hot" the IT labor market is, I might have to bludgeon myself with a router connector.) Even the Fox Network is rumored to be expanding its programming to take advantage of the hotness of the IT labor market: Premiering next sweeps, Fox will be going back to the "Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire" theme, with "Who Wants to Marry a Microsoft Certified Engineer?"

The question to be answered, then, is how do IT managers and HR departments retain young Gen X-ers like myself, who watch their friends and coworkers stream through the revolving doors of your companies? Are you developing innovative ways to keep young staffers loyal? (And I'm not talking about Pizza Fridays, Hawaiian T-shirt Thursdays or any other "Insert Your Own Novelty Activity" and "Add a Day of the Week" here.) A lot of hiring managers would rather whine to their bosses about the dearth of qualified applicants whom their headhunters are bringing to them than work a little harder at identifying in-house prospects who have the potential to flourish with said companies.

Not every employee needs or wants more money. You might be surprised to hear that money isn't (and shouldn't be) the be-all and end-all factor for every one of your young employees.

So let's get innovative here. I've got five free hints to help you understand this crop of young, loyalty-free workers.

Talk to your employees on occasion about things besides hubs, internet speeds and LANs; don't forget about life outside work (it does exist).

Ask them where they want to be in five, 10 or 20 years--and don't be surprised if it's not at your company. And don't miss this opportunity to ask them what you need to do to keep them at your company in the future.

Praise in public (we do like that) and criticize in private (that's extremely helpful).

Remember that it's just a job; if you make it a "life or death" work environment for your underlings, they're going to hit the road fast.

Invest in us. (But, you say, that's money! And I say, not necessarily.) Matching our 401(k)s, sending us on training trips or kicking something extra into our employee stock ownership plans isn't just about money. It also means you're thinking about your employees' futures. And that's pretty cool with us.

But whatever you do, if you can't show your troops the money, don't show them the door by not doing anything to stop them. Make them feel that their work at your organization is important. Make them feel that they are needed, wanted and valued.

This isn't a plea for a raise nor is this a rant from a disgruntled worker.

Like I said, I'm perfectly happy, I have a great boss and I like it here. So please tell me why I have to look elsewhere?

The "E" in Senior Copy Editor Tom Wailgum's Myers-Briggs profile stands for extrovert, so he needs a lot of attention. Give 'im hell at twailgum@cio.com.

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