Feature: IT workers looking for balance

Getting paid top dollar isn't always the top goal among IT workers. Yes, they still like getting paid, but the balance between life at the office and life beyond the office has become vital to how long workers stay at a company. The better the balance, the longer they stay, according to recent studies on staff retention in information technology.

Many CIOs now recognise the need to add programs and allow workers flexibility in their duties, according to a recent survey conducted by RHI Consulting in the US.

RHI asked 1400 US CIOs how important flexible hours and other life-balancing programs are to retaining staff compared with five years ago. Only 12 per cent said such programs aren't more important today. The study also found that flexible hours and personal paid time off were big hits with IT staff: more than 70 per cent of the CIOs surveyed said they offered those benefits.

"Employers have begun to make the workplace friendlier to help balance work and home life," said Kristin Accipiter, a spokeswoman for the US-based Society for Human Resources Management. The society's annual survey of workstyles shows significant increases in flexitime, telecommuting and compressed work weeks.

Employers are even offering exotic-sounding activities to create a friendlier and less-stressful atmosphere, with massage therapy and nap rooms beginning to pop up in corporate America, Accipiter said.

SAS Institute, a software developer, has seen efforts to build a worker-friendly culture pay off. For several years, SAS has provided flexible hours, on-site day care and health care centres, a piano cafe and a huge fitness centre, and it has a yearly staff turnover rate of about 4 per cent to show for its efforts. That's far below the 20 per cent computer industry average. Jeff Chambers, a human resources manager at SAS, said that keeping turnover rates so low saves the company "about $US50 million a year in retraining expenses".

"When you treat employees like adults and engender trust in people, it helps build a solid relationship with them," Chambers said.

SAS also tries to make sure it stays aware of employees' needs by paying particular attention to a worker-led Best Practices task force that makes workplace and human resources recommendations.

Eva Fujan, vice president of technical recruiting at Inacom, a US-based systems integrator with 11,000 employees, said employers have discovered that "good pay isn't enough any more for the technical workforce. Work and the workplace has become a whole life issue".

Flexi hours, job sharing and telecommuting are all part of Inacom's offerings that help foster the idea of a healthy family life, and the company strives to include families in its workday world.

"When they need to, you frequently see people bring one of their children into the office. It's actually nice to see that side of people," Fujan said.

Inacom also sponsors sports teams and events for kids throughout the year and encourages employees to bring along their families to annual company meetings.

To include families in the annual meeting's festivities, Inacom's chairman walked around during the awards dinner and asked kids what their parents should receive awards for.

"It was wonderful," Fujan recalled. "The kids loved it, the parents loved it, everyone loved it."

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