Murky employment statistics don’t change one truth for IT departments across the country: Companies are still projecting shortages of qualified IT workers, so hanging on to good employees is more critical than ever.

If you want to advance, you need a quality workforce that makes you look good when it comes to handling projects and day-to-day operations. The first mistake you can make is to think keeping these employees happy is not your problem, says CEO Mark Murphy of Leadership IQ, a training and research center based in Washington, D.C., that teaches executive and management best practices.

“It has been easier for leaders to outsource retention to HR and say ‘That’s an HR issue,’” says Murphy, co-author of The Deadly Sins of Employee Retention. “Every company on Earth says, ‘People are our most important assets.’ But they spend more time monitoring the copy machine as an asset than they do their people.”

You need to think creatively to retain a skilled IT workforce, say Murphy and other experts.

Here are strategies worth embracing:

ID your best people.

Knowing and understanding your current staff is critical, says Murphy. A Leadership IQ study found that a staggering 47 percent of high performers are actively seeking other jobs. Step one in keeping those employees is identifying them. Create an individual action plan for each of these workers.

Make it personal.

“Your retention practices really need to meet individual needs,” says Lily Mok, a research vice president in CIO workforce management for Gartner, an IT research and consulting firm. Understand that while one worker might value flexible hours and workdays, another might prefer the option of telecommuting when it’s feasible.

Provide diverse experiences.

Young workers enjoy the excitement of trying different opportunities that help them develop a diverse, marketable skill set. If you follow a traditional set schedule, expecting a young employee to advance in two or three years, the employee will likely leave. “If you miss the window, they’re going to look for opportunities elsewhere,” says Mok.

Conduct "stay" interviews.

An annual review isn’t enough to stay on top of an employee’s satisfaction level, say Mok and Murphy. And certainly, an exit interview is too late, since that employee you trust is already headed out the door. Mok recommends a “stay” interview instead. Take the time to talk to your employees about their job satisfaction and concerns. “It could be as simple as a 20-minute conversation once a month,” says Murphy.

Meet pay expectations.

The bottom line is still, well, the bottom line. “Money still talks,” says Mok. “When people start looking elsewhere is when they realize their value is not recognized in an organization.” Mok recommends regularly benchmarking pay positions against industry standards to retain competitiveness.

Ultimately, retaining the workers who’ll help your own career is primarily about what Murphy calls “softer” issues. “Our high performers want to work on teams with great people; they want to know the manager has their back,” he says. “It’s really about understanding.”


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