Retaining Your Most Valuable Assets

SAN MATEO (07/24/2000) - It's simple enough, says David Foote, managing partner of New Canaan, Conn.-based Foote Partners LLC, a recruitment consulting and research firm. "Find out what people want and give it to them."

With so many opportunities available these days, retention comes down to this:

IT employees must have job satisfaction or they're out the door. To retain tech talent in this tight labor market, employers must establish solid traditional benefits, corporate perks, and more. Ultimately managers must foster a job environment in which employees are comfortable with simple yet often politically complicated undertakings, such as asking for personal time off or getting their ideas heard.

Basics and beyond

Minor perks such as free sodas and nap rooms are fine. But managers must first insure that basic corporate benefits such as health insurance and vacation time are solidly in place. These benefits meet employees' fundamental needs and can keep tech talent from seeking work elsewhere, technical recruiters say.

Showing increased organizational concern for employees is a trend that companies are incorporating in "practices related to recognition, advancement, participa[tory] decision making, building a sense of community, and making lifestyle accommodations," says Tom Ferratt, associate dean and professor of MIS at the University of Dayton, in Ohio.

Work and life flexibility are key components in Xerox Corp.'s employee retention plans, says Donna Lurz, manager of human resources at Xerox's information management organization, in Rochester, N.Y.

"Our major human resources programs address retention by incorporating policies that allow employees as much flexibility as possible," Lurz says. However, she stresses that corporate policies must achieve a balance for both the company and the employee, that "providing flexibility must be manageable and not disruptive to the organization."

In fact, a flexible work schedule is just one factor contributing to job satisfaction identified in the 2000 InfoWorld Compensation Survey (survey results are online at www.infoworld.com). IT professionals noted formal training and opportunities for advancement as the top benefits contributing to job satisfaction, and telecommuting was No. 1 on the benefits wish list.

Most IT companies aren't flexible enough, says Tony DiRomualdo, research director at Concours Group, in Cambridge, Mass. "Work-life balance should be the leading attribute IT organizations should focus on. Employers should provide flexible work conditions that include benefits such as telecommuting and job sharing."

Holistic approach

The right corporate culture, not stock options, is also crucial to employee retention, says Gary Wimp, vice president of human resources at Interwoven Inc., a Web content management company, in Sunnyvale, Calif. "People tend to forget about stock options. They are more concerned with the day-to-day work environment and the way they're treated."

"We take a holistic view of the person," Wimp says, who claims a 100 percent retention rate with the company's engineering staff. For example, Interwoven hired a world-class triathlete to serve as a personal fitness trainer for employees and instituted a "Stop and Smell the Roses" program that gets employees out of the office and into group activities such as whitewater rafting.

Bad boss

Corporate culture can only be as good as the management behind it. If management or a particular technical employee's boss is perceived as bad, employee turnover will increase. The lack of communication is the most common management mistake, according to a survey of CIOs conducted by RHI Consulting Inc., a technical recruitment company, in Menlo Park, Calif. When a departing employee is asked why he or she left a company, the most common response is dislike of his or her manager, Foote, of Foote Partners, says.

To improve communication, managers must keep the communication lines open at all times, providing feedback -- both positive and negative -- and listening to an employee's wants, needs, and suggestions.

"Give people more of a say in what they do. When you own it, you tend to commit to it," Concours Group's DiRomualdo says.

Most companies do not cultivate an atmosphere in which managers engage in thoughtful dialogue with staffers about career issues, Foote says. "Managers need to be hyper-communicative with their employees. Out of conversations come change."

Change, Foote says, can help increase a company's retention rate.

And in the end, retention is a strategic planning issue. After all, when somebody leaves, you have to replace him or her, which takes you back to square one: recruiting.

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